Sunday, September 02, 2007

Playing's the Thing

(reflections on Stuart Brown's discussion with Krista Tippett on the radio program SPEAKING OF FAITH. See links.)

After retirement, workaholic researcher Stuart Brown started the National Institute of Play to study "play" behavior in humans and other animals. I was struck by a few points that he made.

As an educator, I was interested in an anecdote about a businesses that innovates through play. The boss says to a group, "Here's the general problem, here are the general parameters. Now, create a solution. When they get stuck, it's time to play -- and the solution will emerge."

I was also struck by his emphatic separation of "play" from "competition." In animal play, he notes that the larger and stronger creature handicaps the smaller one to even the game. Competition, by definition, is working to exclude; play is inclusive. I've learned to use the format of competition instead of tests in my history class, but I try to put the emphasis on everyone's learning and everyone's enjoyment. There may be a better way to do it.

Finally, as the radio show focuses on faith, he was asked about religious ramifications of his studies. Having just described lionesses engaged in a spontaneous ballet -- movements imitated for pleasure, for their own sake, with no purpose -- he concluded, "There's more in us and in other animals than ions zipping around a nervous system." The exact same thought brought me to believe in God, listening to Stephen Sondheim's gratuitously layered trio at the start of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC's ("Now," "Soon," "Later") which is intricate far beyond an audience's ability to appreciate it at first hearing.

Visiting the web site, I was treated to a slide show of what happened when a wild polar bear encountered sled dogs on chains. The photographer braced himself for an ugly event - but the creatures cavorted and tumbled. The bear returned the next few nights for more! Here's a direct link to that slide show: Speaking of Faith, polar bear slide show.


Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

The sled dogs you mentioned were very lucky. Normally, chained sled dogs are easy marks for attacks by other animals. For more facts about what chained sled dogs are forced to endure, please visit, .

Due to animal welfare concerns, jurisdictions across the United States are banning the chaining of dogs.

Many people of faith believe that God gave humans dominion over the animals, and that it's a sin to abuse His creation.

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