Why Are We Afraid to Play?

Childhood’s End?
“Stop fooling around!”

Did you ever hear that from a parent or a teacher?

Maybe you ignored it and got into trouble.
Or, more likely, you eventually listened, and stopped.

But that wasn’t the end of your desire to play.

You probably still like to play in some way.
Although you probably don’t call it play, except when you play sports or cards.

It’s recreation, exercise, vacation, relaxing, socializing, a night out, or meeting people.
We’re sensible adults now, and we need an excuse to enjoy ourselves, right?

Most people are uncomfortable with the idea of play.
That’s too immature. I’m too old and sensible, and serious for that.

I know a lot about being serious.
I could have invented the word if someone else hadn’t already done it.

It seems like I received a double portion of serious at birth.
I was quiet, and thoughtful, and at 10 years old, I was already asking questions about the meaning of life.

Ok. Not all the time.

Even though I have this sometimes oppressive, serious side, I’ve always loved to play.
There. I used the four-letter-word.
(Did anyone hear me?)

There was a while in my life when the playful part of me went underground, but it’s come back.

What do I mean when I use the word play?

I mean that extraordinary human ability to shake up this stiff, settled, and fixed world, and enter a dimension where anything is possible, and the world becomes magical again.

As it was, when we were children.
As it still is, if we let possibility come out and play with us.

Playful and Serious
What do you think of when someone says, “Get serious”?
Some people think of becoming completely focused on our responsibilities, our duties, and our obligations.
It’s wonderful to be focused on the parts of our lives which bring us meaning, and that’s the good side of being serious – a focus on what’s important to us.

But too often (most of the time, I think), we apply a focused, frozen attitude to keep doing what we’re already doing. Just keep going, and don’t think about it.
That’s the kind of seriousness that is dangerous to our personal development.

If we can’t change, and can’t grow, life is over.

I think that we need to combine a focus on what’s most meaningful to us right now, with a playful attitude that combines joy, gratitude, love, exploration, and strength.

Fear and Strength
Can we be playful, when there are bills to pay, tragedies, death, and suffering?

Yes, it’s a challenge.
But facing up to the demands of life, and its sorrows, and accepting a certain measure of responsibility, is not a death sentence for play.

Because play, in it’s most profound sense, is how we break the boundaries of the way things are and must be, and dream of a new me, new worlds, and new ways of living.

It’s true that the weight of life’s burdens can push us to hide behind the mask of seriousness.

But there’s a more profound reason, I think, that we move away from play as we age.
We’re disappointed in ourselves.

We’re not satisfied with what we’ve achieved.
We’re not happy with some of the compromises that we’ve made.
We’re not happy with the ways that we’ve betrayed our own principles, and abandoned our own dreams.

And play, in its most profound sense, says that I can change who I am.
I can be different if I really want to.
Possibility is not just something for a stage, or for the world outside of me.
Possibility is all about who I can become.

But that’s frightening.
To be able to change, to be able to explore all the possibility that’s hiding in me, I have to be willing to see the complete truth about what I’ve done with my life, without sugar coating it.

How many of us have the strength and the courage to look for, and fight for, the complete truth about ourselves?

Why is that so important?
Because the possibilities that each of us has, the new me that I can become, may be waiting in some corner of myself that I’ve been too frightened to approach.

If we have the courage to see the truth about ourselves, if no corner of ourselves is too frightening to explore, then a world of possibility opens up.

8 comments to Why Are We Afraid to Play?

  • What a wonderful post!

    As a Hospice Nurse, I saw too many people staring at death with unresolved issues that I tried to help them work through. When it was successful, usually a great peace and a sense of playfulness surrounded the patient. Their last days and weeks were filled with time to say “I love you” to others and to laugh and cry over shared memories. I met many “happy joke-sters” during my career, and I’m grateful to have learned from them.

    The sad times for me came when a patient became too ill too quickly to have the precious time to find that inner peace and joy. Often families are in a state of denial, or they pretend there is nothing wrong, until it is too late to have the help that a patient needs to deal with their own imminent demise. Or to reconcile their feelings about the life they have led. That wall of silence and pretending nothing is wrong does a grave disservice to a terminal patient.

    With a strong sense of play, even dying patients can find joy in so many of their final hours. Too bad, so many of us let the time slip by without taking the time to really enjoy our lives.

    Let’s all give ourselves permission to play! Hear! Hear!

  • Lovely post. We can all take notice, and perhaps also take notice of how our children do it so well!

  • ‘……To be able to change, to be able to explore all the possibility that’s hiding in me, I have to be willing to see the complete truth about what I’ve done with my life, ….’
    I fully agree wih your words said above, Joel. The ultimate responsibility is ours as how we should live our life.
    A great post. Thanks
    Good luck.

  • You have been tagged for The Personal Development List. I would love for you to participate.

  • VERY nice post!

    I’m right with you!

    Actually… I think the ability to play beyond childhood is one of the most amazing of all human attributes. In some ways it is what separates us from other animals.

    Thanks for this reminder to PLAY…. :-)


  • Very nice observation that you have made about children, infact that is something that every adult should learn to put it aside and be instead of making excuses.

  • Nice post real practical but real hard to digest but all said and done it is a real good post and i like it. And that is a personal opinion.

  • […] spoken before (in Caution: Shape Shifters at Play and Why are we afraid to Play? ) about the power of play that enables us to try out other ways of thinking and […]

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