ON THE AGENDA | FEBRUARY 12TH, 2010 | Francie Grace

The Importance Of Play

civic engagement, deliberative democracy, learning through play, public engagement, the importance of play

Turns out the old axiom about all work and no play may be right (and, heading into a holiday weekend, this may be the right time to make this observation). But being dull isn't the only risk of not spending enough time at play: a lack of time at play can also make you less flexible and less knowledgeable about the world, as well as less trustful and by extension, less able to cooperate with others in working towards solutions. So for both children and adults, it has implications for society and civic life.

Those are some of the theories explored by Alison Kadlec, director of our Center for Advances in Public Engagement, in "Play and Public Life," published in the current edition of the National Civic Review. She interviews Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, and author of "Play: How It Shapes The Brain, Opens Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul." Brown argues that for both animals and humans, "playful interaction allows a penalty-free rehearsal of the normal give and take necessary in social groups." Trust, he says, "is the core process that evokes and allows enough safety for play to take place."

Trust is also a foundation of the public engagement process, in which groups with disparate interests agree to explore trade-offs and solutions. Brown points to some real-world examples, such as George Mitchell's crediting the successes he had brokering peace in Northern Ireland to having spent time telling jokes at the dinner table.

We can think of some other believers in this art, evidenced by President Obama's fondness for basketball and bipartisan invites to Super Bowl parties, and GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch's song composed for Ted Kennedy when the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts returned to Capitol Hill in 2008.

Click here for more about Alison's article on this interesting aspect of both child development and public life.


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