Playing Safe: an essay in three parts about the interdependence of fun, health and safety

1. Choosing Fun

Fun is something we definitely like to have. And we're definitely not the only ones. Just about every social species has a whole vocabulary of signs and signals, a body language that can be unmistakably interpreted: fun is what is being had. We laugh, guffaw, chuckle, get on the floor, wag our tails, roll over. Inviting play.

And when it's fun enough, even if someone looks so angry, so menacing, even if someone bites, we can keep it fun, just about as long as we want to.

We have to feel like having fun to have fun. That's the whole thing about fun that makes it so trustworthy, so genuine. If we don't feel like having fun, nobody can really make us. And nothing anybody can give us can make us have fun: no promise, no politics, no prize.

If we don't feel like having fun, if we really don't want to have fun, well, then fun is definitely something we won't be having. Even if you try to trick or tickle us.

This keen observation raises at least one question: Why wouldn't we feel like having fun?

Really. If fun is something we could have, something readily, perhaps, available, why would anybody ever not feel like having it?

Is this a good question? Or what?

Not to imply guilt or madness, because all of us conscious beings, even the young, from time to time, simply don't feel like fun is something to have.

Even puppies with all their nippish play-fighting, from time to time will actually choose something other than fun to have.

There are times that are universally just not fun. Times when, of all the emotions and behaviors available to us, playfulness and enjoyment are nowhere to be found: when somebody nips too hard, or somebody won't leave somebody alone, or somebody hides and never gets found, or somebody plays dead too long.

2. Safety

When we don't feel safe, we generally don't feel like having fun. Safety, or the lack thereof, is one of the big reasons we decide not to have fun.

How safe do you feel? Physically? Socially? Environmentally? Professionally? Financially?

Not "how safe are you?" Because God only knows how safe you really are. But, how safe do you feel? Right now?

How safe do you feel with the people with whom you work? With whom you live? Next to whom you sit?

Not "how safe are you" because you know you really aren't ever anything more than relatively. This is being grown up, knowing this.

And in case you have any momentary doubts, it's in the news. It's on television. It's the subject of best-sellers: You are not safe. No one is really safe. Homemakers no more than prime ministers.

So, how safe do you feel?

Chances are, if you're an adult of just about any species, you don't feel very safe. Not really safe enough to play.

3. Health

Another thing that keeps us from choosing fun is health. When we don't feel healthy -- physically, emotionally, socially, ecologically -- we usually don't feel like having fun.

Health, when it's good enough, is a good enough reason for anyone to want to have fun. Just because you feel good, you kick up your heels, jump for joy, leap for leaping's sake.

And when you don't feel good, even if you're a kid, you drag your feet, hang your head, just don't feel like playing, and sometimes even bite.

This is true in any culture, in any species where there is anything like play. Kids play. Unless sick or threatened, what kids do is play. Kids play almost all the time. Dog kids and cat kids, goat kids and human kids. Especially the healthy kids.

Safe shmafe. Sure, we do what we can to keep ourselves and each other safe. We have safe places and safe zones and, if somebody really gets hurt, we even stop the game. But, when we are truly at play, we don't think about safety. We think about the game, the challenge, the fun of it all. Even when we are really not that safe. Even when we're climbing a rock, a thousand feet up, with nothing between us and death but a handhold.

So the question can't be "how safe are you," but rather "how safe do you feel?" or "how safe are you allowing yourself to believe you are?" Physically? Socially? Environmentally? Professionally? Financially?


And if you don't actually feel like playing, maybe it's actually because you don't actually feel safe enough to play. And if you don't feel safe enough to play, you're just not going to really want to play, unless you really want to play. In that case, you just have to pretend you're safer than you really are. Really. You just have to pretend.

And the best way to pretend you're safer than you really are is with someone else.

Someone you can pretend to be safe with.

Someone who can play, even though.