The Power of Play
Jun 12, 2022
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Stuart Brown. Dr. Brown is the founder of The National Institute for Play and the author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul. Dr. Brown’s origin story is quite interesting. He became “Dr. Play” after researching what some call the first mass murder by a gunman atop the University of Texas’ water tower in 1966.
Through his research, Dr. Brown discovered that like the shooter on the water tower in 1966, people who committed horrible acts of violence against others seemed to grow up in a life absent of play. Play, or the absence of play, appeared to be the overwhelming commonality in the lives of several murderers. They grew up in homes/families/environments where they were unable to play. This makes sense, after all, play happens in an environment of safety and love.
In fact, the way Dr. Brown describes play, it sounds a lot like he is describing love. The National Institute for Play’s website even says “we are built to play and built by play.” I asked him about this and Dr. Brown told me that, “Play and Love are joined at the hip.” I don’t know why, but that really resonates with me and I’m sure it’s more powerful than I know right now.
But think of it, people who play, maybe even love, are the people who make the world a better place. They aren’t the people who are destroying lives and crushing the hearts of moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and communities. I know it’s a no-brainer, but if we want to make the world a better place, we can do so by fostering play and maybe love.
Just so you know, Dr. Brown’s definition of play doesn’t really have anything to do with sports or games as much as it has to do with the individual. For the individual, play is a state where the person gets lost and time stands still. It’s flow. It can be done by dancing, painting, playing the piano, playing soccer, daydreaming, sweeping the kitchen floor, or in any activity, in which the person loses themselves. Play is where a person gets swept away in what they are doing, or where they become what they are doing; a place so safe, so powerful, so lovely that time stops for them, and maybe the world even stops to watch them.
We were made to play. We were made to stop time, to be safe, and to love so wildly that the legend of our flow state inspires generations to come. This is a state that asks for silence and reverence from the observers. It’s pure love in motion. This is what we were all made for - to play, to laugh, to love, to flow, to stop time.
We weren’t made for pain. We weren’t made to harm others. Not everyone grows up in a home where they feel safe, where they feel loved, or where they can play. That’s tragic for them and potentially a tragedy for countless lives around them. That’s why your ability to play matters because if play and love are truly joined at the hip then perhaps we can extend a sense of safety and warmth to others who haven’t been as fortunate as us. Perhaps a simple smile to that person who never makes eye contact, the one who never seems to fit in, can sneak a little ray of light into an otherwise seemingly dark existence. Maybe even a game of cards over lunch, purposeful conversation, or even listening to someone’s story may be the act of kindness that invites safety and inspires a little play.
I know you’re reading this and it may seem “out there.” Maybe that’s because as we get older, we tend to lose our imaginations, our playful spirit, and our hope. We tend to get callous, tired, and boring. Maybe we simply need to remember how to play ourselves, to find our flow again, or maybe even for the first time. If a rising tide lifts all ships, maybe us just re-learning how to play can lift the spirits of all those around us. If a butterfly’s wings can start a hurricane, maybe our laughter and playful spirit can save millions of lives. It can certainly make the world a brighter world.
Anyway, my BodCast interview with Dr. Brown comes out this Friday. I hope you’ll listen to it and be inspired to play a little, love a little, and make the world just a little bit brighter.
Also, unfortunately, I sat down to talk with Dr. Brown the day after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. A very similar tragedy to the one that launched his purpose in 1966. His commitment to play and sharing his message about play is as strong today as it ever was. This is a man full of play (compassion and love).