Compassion, play and politics
40. Content to contribute
Play is a tonic in all sorts of ways. In Homo Ludens, Huizinga wrote the seminal examination of play from which modern play studies sprang. Pat Kane, ex-member of 80s indie Scottish band, Hue And Cry, also wrote a book on this subject called The Play Ethic, outlining the principles on which his company of the same name operates to research and workshop play, innovation, creativity and the future. Comments are mounting, however, concerning the slow but insidious sabotage of the spontaneity intrinsic to children’s play by louder questionable interests relating to public safety, more intense schooling and commercial pressures. Many adults too feel bound to be constantly accessible for work, contrary to preferences for work-life balance. Taking a step back can help.
For illuminating and entertaining revelations into ways in which philosophy, culture and science can be surprisingly applied to real life, there’s hardly a better companion than the writer, Nassim N. Taleb. His certainty about the unpredictability of events and enterprises removes blame from loss; he asserts that the game of life doesn’t follow regular rules. This view corresponds with that found in Finite And Infinite Games by James Carse. Infinite games of interaction with others keep opening to more play, without a murderous triumphant finale. Useful notes outline the differences between game types, which includes playing politics.
It’s possible to gauge one’s main political leanings through an online test which challenges polarised positions. Ken Loach, film director famed for addressing thorny social issues, strongly recommends engaging directly with others affected and concerned to remedy problems and injustices encountered by self and others, and to stay sane. Adam Phillips argued that far too little attention has been paid to the knack of sanity, in Going Sane.Intended as a feminist slogan, the personal is political was first used by Carol Hanisch in her 1969 essay; the succinct phrase has since been borrowed, because of its wide resonance, for countless causes.
Naomi Klein has concluded, in This Changes Everything, that the hyperactivity of capitalism is responsible for most of the harm done to the environment. Some buddhist orders, instead of observing a sabbath day, designate a lazy day per week, free time to use as one chooses. Elsewhere this has been called the green virtue: “Laziness is one of the most important practices and medicines for our time and our situation.”
It took Michael Moore to humorously make the connection that unless rulers are affected and determinedly pestered through more or less reasonable routes, they’re usually slow to intervene and fix destructive situations. That is the best argument for anyone feeling aggrieved, on one’s own behalf and/or on others’, to become politically involved in the broadest meaning of the term, in the sense of finding ways to be heard and influence decisions, to take group action, to learn more about issues of concern, their causes, consequences, and possibly ultimately to be the one who people turn to for guidance and advocacy. The Greek word for idiot literally means a “private person (as opposed to one taking part in public affairs).” Democracy falls apart without participation.
Becoming persuasive doesn’t, however, grant a licence to judge others. Unless on close terms with them, how is it possible to tell who else bears hidden scars of harrowing experiences and is masking it with bravado? Meditation practices to develop compassion through equalising and exchanging self with others, as taught by the Dalai Lama, nurture empathy and acceptance. A gentle sensitive demeanour has a calming quality on giver and receiver. Optimism increases with humility on recognition of common suffering and joy under many guises. Whether wounded or just under the weather, people remember the consolation of kindnesses, large or small. The best person to practise on is oneself.
As Shakespeare said:
Martin Luther King nominates his friend Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, 1967