I don’t typically address politics here, but in recent days it seems that is all there is. Like a lot of people in the U.S., I’ve been pretty despondent all week. So many years after I was a high school student marching for equality the streets of Schenectady New York (of all places), we have this election. As a woman, it has been hard not to feel that open season for bullying and harassment has begun—not to mention my worries for my Muslim and Latino friends and colleagues. I am profoundly sad. I am also sad that our country has ignored the voices that came roaring back this week. If they’d been heard earlier, we’d be less fractured today. And I can’t seem to find my usually hopeful resolve.
Then, just now, I received an email from the Henry Ford Museum with the subject heading, “Play Matters.” It was an ad, actually, for some of the wonderful toys in the museum shops, but it made me think. In our dark days, play really does matter.
Play occurs throughout the world, among humans and animals. Anyone who has ever watched kittens, otters, or (my sister’s favorite) baby goats understands that the urge to play seems an essential part of mammalian childhood. The drive to play is strong, and with good reason. Play helps young people learn language development, impulse control, planning, problem solving, curiosity, emotional regulation, social negotiation, and a host of other skills. And that’s not all. It is important for adults, too.
Playful adults cope with stress in more positive ways. Play helps us think better. Play lightens our mood, which is associated with more innovative ideas. Playfulness with ideas is one of the hallmarks of major creative thinkers. And if there were ever a time when those of us who live in the U.S. need creative and flexible thinking, it is now—whichever side of our divided country you stand on. How else will we understand each other?
So, as you think about how you will engage in the new era before us, think about play. Think about fun. Think about engaging with young people and old people to bring them together in joyful ways. Have a family or neighborhood game night. Sing in a choir. Bring the community together to have a potluck, put on a play, or build a community garden. Better yet, bring your neighborhood together with a different one and do those things together. This is the time for play that doesn’t require score keeping, just interaction as human beings. As we do, I suspect we’ll build hope along with gardens and creativity along the way. It’s a place to start, anyway.