Coming out of a trance

Wikipedia / Pieter Bruegel

I’ve always liked this picture from the first time I encountered it on Peter Brown’s wonderful TED talk on play. The thing he points out is the number of adults playing in the picture. How many of us play today – really play?

Play is at the heart of what we do, how we learn and how we evolve. Despite that, we don’t really even let our children do it anymore. We keep them busy learning old stuff. Structured play to an agenda as against the joy of unstructured play. Play with no fixed agenda.

Much the same is true of story. We laud story telling as a means of communication and persuasion, but as more of a tool than a source. Targeted communication rather than inspiration and imagination.

Play, myth and story have been with us since the earliest times. They have shaped us and enabled us to make sense our our world. They are human technologies and a central part of our operating system, and yet we treat them as somehow subservient to us. That’s not only foolish, it’s dangerous.

When we allow other people to define our story, and where we fit, we lose our originality and become what suits other people. When we lose our ability to play, we restrict our horizons, our curiosity, and our potential.

The industrial era had had us in a trance for the last few generations, and the industrial era is ending. We are not quite sure what we are going into, but whatever it is, we need new stories for ourselves.

Finding our place in whatever is emerging needs us to play with ideas and possibility, and develop the stories of who we want to be, as individuals and society.

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