The Purpose Of Play
I had an interesting little ponder the other day about the design of children and childhood. Why is it, I wondered, that we think only adults have a purpose? We go around trying to figure out our purpose, fulfill our purpose, decide whether there is a purpose… but our children are allowed to just Be.
I mean, what is childhood? From this perspective it’s a kind of waiting around to get big enough and learn enough to be able to do your purpose – as an adult.
So what’s the point of childhood then? Why this design? Why make humans small and knowledgeless first and wait all those years before they start to Live Their Lives? It all seems a bit pointless. Does it mean all these little people are just hanging around purposelessly waiting to be big?
If you ask someone, ‘What is that child doing’ they might answer, ‘She is playing’ and that’s considered a valid response – ‘cos that’s what children do, right? We’re ok with that. It seems fine. In fact there are many serious studies looking at the benefits of play on physical, emotional, intellectual and social development. The research tells us that when children are playing they are actually VERY busy growing and developing. It’s their work, their purpose. In actuality, their purposeless, random activities – that they will have forgotten by next week – are VERY important to their development.
But we don’t really respect the Purpose of Play. What children do, what and how they play, all seems a bit random from the outside and we adults leave them to get on with it. They’re playing. It’s ok. It’s only when they’re grown up that they’ll have to be Adults With Purpose. For now they can Be.
If you think about it though, how purposeful are any of the things we adults do? I don’t mean to depress you here, I’m getting to a good place, I promise. (I did have a moment of concern for my mental well-being as I pondered all this while driving in the car. “You’re asking what’s the meaning of it all Eilat. Are you ok?” I’m fine. This was a deep and liberating ponder for me.)
The thing is that we adults are also just doing random bits of things; things we think we should do, things that are expected of us… Sometimes we allow ourselves to do some of what we like to do. A very few of us make it a regular habit to do mostly things we enjoy. Those tend to be happy people. So in a way, there is no Purpose to our adult lives – any more than there is for children’s lives. We are also just playing at stuff, exploring and developing.
Children only really play the stuff they enjoy, have you noticed that? I mean really play; sink into. They’re not inspired to do deep development in things they don’t like, are they?
So what is the point of it all? The Purpose.
Maybe there’s no ‘Point” per se. Maybe we are each here to play at the things we enjoy and want to know more about? Maybe that’s how we grow as a whole?
Research points out that when we forget to include play in our lives we become depressed. There’s a direct link between no play and high depression levels. When you think what the word ‘depressed’ means, it is being pushed down, squashed, suppressed. It’s pretty much impossible to be depressed while you play something that grabs you. Does this mean playing allows our real self to emerge?
And isn’t that our ultimate purpose in life?
If this is true, then children are actually more connected to Purpose than us grown-ups and The Point has been under our noses this whole time.
Yet we see Play as Purposeless; an Option. Funny that.