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José Víctor Orón Semper, researcher of the 'group Mente-cerebro ' del Institute for Culture and Society
Terms and mentalities. Play
Playing is the best thing we can do, it is the pinnacle of humanity. Why do we consider play in this way? When talking in other articles about autonomy, self-esteem, confidence and meaning, we have already alluded to play. Animals play, humans play, but they do not play in the same way. It is now time to add a few more considerations and try to justify that play, human play, is "the pinnacle of humanity". And if it is so important, we should reflect on how human play is played in every period of life? Obviously the game, the human game, has its own singularity and it is convenient to identify it in order to be able to respond to what we have asked ourselves.
The most important characteristic of human play is that it is unproductive. That is, when the game is over there is nothing left, nothing has been achieved beyond the game. Aristotle was the one who taught us to distinguish between 'act' and 'production'. Play is act, it is not production. The act has the end of the activity in the act itself, while production has its end when the activity ceases. He explains it with 'seeing' and 'building'. The seen is had when it is seen, not afterwards. The perception of sight is given in act. If we then remember what is seen we are properly remembering but not perceiving.
On the other hand, while a house is being built we do not have what is built, but when we have finished building it is then that we have what is built, for example the house. Thus, in the act the end is interior, while in production the end is exterior. This is fundamental for the ethical grade , because in the act, as the end is interior, it directly affects the person who exercises it, while in the production the affectation is indirect. That is to say, although in general when we do something we are also deciding that subject person we want to be, in the case of the act the relationship with the person is more intense.
On the other hand, the act ceases, when the person decides not to exercise it (closing the eyes) is therefore a matter of the will, but the production ceases when the object (the house) emerges. This makes the link between the act and the person more intense. Without ever losing sight of the fact that the person is more. The distinction between act and production is still a bit artificial (conceptual would be the concrete way of saying it) because in real life, acts and productions overlap since the human being always acts globally.
This conceptual artifice leads us to the fact that although in the game, we produce many things, for example passing the ball, the game itself is an act more than a production. That is to say, a father and a son play at passing the ball to each other. The ball comes and goes, comes and goes and when the game is over, the ball is put away and nothing remains beyond the enjoyment of having played.
How does a monkey play? A monkey plays only by producing, not by acting. There is a very nice experiment. The monkey and researcher play. The researcher hides the banana, the monkey looks for it and eats it. What happens when a third person comes and removes the obstacle that hides the banana? The monkey takes advantage of the opportunity and eats it faster. On the other hand, when this game is repeated between the child and the experimenter, the child's behavior is different. The experimenter hides the ball (instead of the banana), the child finds it, gives it back to the experimenter and the cycle repeats. A third party arrives and removes the obstacle covering the ball, what does the child do? The child gets angry. It is as if the child thinks of this third person, "Are you stupid, we are playing, don't you understand? The child doesn't care about the ball, he cares about the person. As we have said in past articles, the child uses the ball to access meeting with the other. The monkey uses the person to access the banana.
One day I saw a 10 year old boy playing a climbing game. The game consisted of trying to climb backwards up a network. The mother did not pay attention to the child and suddenly the child exclaimed: "Mom, look at me so I don't cheat! It is obvious that the child is not interested in the climbing itself, but in the mother watching him climb. The child uses the climbing to gain access to the mother.
We conclude, play, human play, is enjoyment together while doing something where there is no interest in the result, but in the interpersonal meeting . I recommend re-reading the term "enjoyment" to understand this statement.
We can go for a while without breathing, but in the end we need to breathe. We can go a while without playing and behave technically like the monkey, but sooner or later we have to get back in the game, or we die.
There are people who spend their lives producing: now a degree scroll, now another degree scroll, now a work, now another work and that is why it is not strange that they fall into depression. They have held their breath for many years, but in the end you have to breathe and when they realize that they have not played in their life they realize that they have not lived like humans. They probably have a fancy office with great views, leather chair and mahogany desk. They have the banana, but they haven't played ball.
Relevant pedagogues and psychologists of childhood: Montessori, Piaget, Erikson, Vygotsky have shown the importance of play for the child to find meaning in life, for cognitive growth, for the projection staff, for the emergence of symbolism, for the meaning of reality, for self-esteem, autonomy... Everything is done by the child in the game.
Some might say: from agreement play is important, but it is a child's thing. Another might add: play is very important for a child, but it is also very important for him to study. With all due respect, but in one case as in the other, human nature is unknown. Play is also reference letter fundamental for the adult and in the child everything is play. What is true is that we do not play in the same way at all ages. Each age has a way of playing, but the essence of play: the enjoyment of the interpersonal meeting is the fundamental and main core topic to understand what it means to be human. The human being is essentially, constitutively and personally a relational being like no other reality.
As the child develops agency, play becomes the form of his or her own empowerment staff and the challenge appears: running faster, for example. In this sense, play evolves into what we know as sport. With this evolution of the game, the productive character gains in relevance, for the winner gets the cup and the cup is a production.
So where does the game continue? Certainly an adolescent can play as a child and in that case the same childish play continues into adolescence and adulthood. But that would be playing as a child. How does one play as an adolescent? Adolescent play is being with friends. If you ask a teenager what he has done with his friends the afternoon they have been together, he answers: nothing. On the other hand, they have done many things: go here and there, buy something for each other, talk about a thousand things... but they have done nothing, because the most important thing they have done is to be together. Little by little, another, more singular form of adolescent play is emerging, one that lasts into adulthood.
What's left after a party? Nothing, just garbage to pick up. The party will have been held on the occasion of a dance or a meal. But when it is over, there is nothing left. To party is not a luxury, but a necessity, it is to breathe humanity.
In adult life, play with children, sports and parties continue, but new forms that derive from the previous ones also emerge: travel, work or adventure. If work is mere production, it is not work human. The human work is to play while producing. That is, it is enjoying the interpersonal meeting within the work team and with those who will benefit from the production of work for whom it works.
The important thing about this outline is that the new terms depend on the old ones. That is, either play endures in work or work is not play. In that case a form of play in the adult is to work and if the work is not play then it is inhuman. What does it mean that the work needs to be play to be a human work ? Well, if working is not at the service of the enjoyment of interpersonal meeting then that work is not human.
It is useful to remember: the monkey uses the person to reach the banana. The child uses the ball to reach the person. When people are used in a work to reach a product, people are forced to live like monkeys.
Boris Cyrulic, an important neuropediatrician, has a very nice story to understand why work should be play. Two men work in the same quarry, the same sun of justice, the same unfair salary, the same bossy boss... When each is asked: "What do you do? One of them answers: "here, bitter about life, working to have some money and spend it on alcohol at the end of the day to start again the next day". The other answers: "I build a cathedral, and with the little money I make my children will have a better future". The first one works like a monkey, the second one works like a person because he is playing. He works playing, because he uses the work for the interpersonal meeting . It is a very difficult game, because he has to make the other present in his intention even if he is not physically present. But it is play because it makes the work the form of the interpersonal meeting . It is a very complicated game, because he is anticipating the enjoyment of meeting and the good of his children in the absence of any sign of meeting. Adult play is a difficult game, but it is play. No one said that play is easy.
Studying is a production, acquiring a skill is a production, in the work we produce many things. But if the products are not put at the service of the act, they are dehumanizing products. That is why a Education based on competences is to make monkeys out of children, because the end is not skill.
Many educators talk about Jacques Delors and the document " Education holds a treasure". It would be worthwhile to read it again and first discover how the skill is in only one of the four pillars (learning to do and not in those of: learning to learn, learning to be and learning to live together). And furthermore, the four pillars are not equal, but there is a hierarchy, since all of them must be at the service of "learning to live together". What does not serve to enjoy together, what is it for?
At Education there is a lot of talk about motivation. And we want to excite the child and the adolescent so that they become motivated. The uniquely human motive for studying is none other than to live together. Whitehead already said it, we do not study mathematics to make mathematics great, but to live better together. By the way, he was a professor of mathematics at Oxford.
Many rebellions of children and adolescents when we force them to produce and produce may be based on the fact that they rebel against being treated like monkeys. Some teachers are happy because they manage to tame the children and they end up behaving like obedient circus monkeys.
I could even give a religious example. Either religion is a game or it turns into fanaticism. Let us look at the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the game in the form of a feast. After the feast, what is left? Nothing, only some glasses (chalice) and plates (paten) to clean. As in every feast, what is important in the Eucharist? It is nothing other than the meeting and the enjoyment of that meeting. It is enough to participate in an African Eucharist to have no doubt that it is a feast. Religion is humanizing if it is an act and is centered on the meeting. Religion is fanaticism if it is production.
Without knowing the importance of play it is impossible to understand many of the human emotions we experience. What are you going to play today? Shall we play?