Are people afraid of play?

Yesterday, I received a question about the use of the words “play” and “playfulness”, which reminds me of some concerns I’ve been struggling with myself:

I was wondering if you have any (bad) experience in using the word play and playfulness.

I thought I might as well share my answer here, as I’m sure more people are considering these things:

It’s a good question, however, about the way “play” and “playfulness” can be perceived.

I’ve definitely met (and continue to meet) people who think play is not for them and mostly for children. They’ve never considered the potential impact of play or the huge ramifications of playfulness as a way of living and working.

Hence, I think it *can* turn some people away, but I also think it depends a lot on the way it’s framed and the context it’s situated in. Since I’ve started talking mostly about playfulness as a goal in itself rather than play as an activity, I think I’ve met more people, who understand and who take it seriously.

I mean, most people understand that we probably need to do things differently to navigate this chaotic world, to stay relevant and, most importantly, perhaps, to stay sane. If playfulness is framed as part of the solution to those challenges, it may get harder to ignore (with emphasis on “maybe” :-) ).

I think you saw my post from the Next Library conference, where I presented these ideas. Maybe you also saw my post about the PhD-application I just recently sent off. In that, I propose the above hypothesis – that playfulness may be linked to “global citizenship” and, in turn, to becoming a person capable of living, navigating and maybe even improving the world.

To sum up: if you succeed in framing playfulness as a trait or something central to our success, it’s way, way harder to ignore even though they might think “play” is for children.

That’s what I answered.

I’m not afraid of using the words, but I’m aware some people stop listening the second I mention play.

I’ve consciously decided that these words are too important to dress them up as something else. I’d rather try to paint a clearer picture of the huge importance of play than disguise play in a more “serious” language.

It doesn’t get much more serious than play.

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