Wednesday, October 5, 2011

monkey work

I returned from a wonderful kayaking adventure around a small island off the coast of France to, well, work.

Great work, mind you. A collaboration workshop, a review on aid effectiveness, a conference on new ways of working in development, complexity, 'how change happens', preparing a talk on sustainability for some local Quakers.

My response: damn. After sending out a flurry of emails, I sank into bed last night and watched Downton Abbey - my current favorite TV series. For three hours. Which is excessive.

In other words, I didn't really want to deal with it. The whole 'work' thing.

But what if work is play? Certainly all of my work is an incredible blessing - I get paid to think and to write while living in a foreign country - without having a phd. Not too bad. (Even if I occasionally feel like an intellectual slut.)

My work is inherently about communication and knowledge-brokering. Which I think of as rather playful - what is this whole language business if not something we can play with, creating new meanings (if not new words) with the ease with which a babe creates a new relationship with everyone she meets - simply because she herself is participating in that relationship?

Apparently, monkeys play peek-a-boo. And we really aren't much more than monkeys - just a wee bit more sophisticated and quite a bit taller.

So what if this whole transition stuff is just play? what if this whole new world thing isn't more than playing peek-a-boo - now you see me and now you dont? My favorite leaders in the field certainly approach it that way - a creative try try and try again approach.

I look at my diary. Blank pages I know are not really blank. the future is yet to be written yet it is already there, somehow, i've put things in place long before I ever wake up that day. And yet, it is always moveable, always changeable. There's that boat in the harbor we can board and just leave. If we've got money for fuel, that is. If there is fuel. Or at least a working sail. And then there's that neighbor whom we never talk to but who has got secrets we can barely imagine and all it takes is a little game - baking them cookies, inviting them to the local farmers market - and a whole new dimension of this thing called reality suddenly exists where it did not exist before.

I increasingly think that play and creativity are fundamental aspects of our being. Not just stage II developmentally - but intertwined with our capacity to survive. If children under the age of 6 months can play peek a boo, a rather sophisticated game, then there must be something about us primates that means that we are inherently creatures of play. If we are social creatures, and if we learn our social interactions largely through our play - as we do - then we are, indeed, creatures of play and delight. If development is about wellbeing, then maybe wellbeing is also about play.

So then why is all this 'work' on development and wellbeing so, well, unplayful? What is it about becoming adults that we forget that the world is ours to play with - with others? and that we need the other - the monkey, the child - in order to play that most basic of games that says, we are here, you are there, yes, I see you, I recognise you, we can have fun together.

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