What Makes A Good Human?: Final Thoughts

I will try not to make this too lengthy, but this series has been a journey writing it and I felt a more holistic summation was in order.

One of the things that occurred to me that I was writing it was that was I sounding too much of a person of privilege in my posts.  I certainly felt like that at times.  If I could say one more thing about what makes a good human might also be luck.  The country I was born in, the parents I got, the extended family, that were very loving, and of course my wife and friends all played a role in making me what I am, and for giving me the time and freedom to ruminate, contemplate, learn the right lessons from my experiences for me to even be able to write this.  Of course luck isn’t really in our control, and perhaps it is who we are that draw at least some of the people into our life and keep them there.  But there are those who are born to parents who stifle their curiosity. When does the parent or parents who work long hours to provide for their children find the time for curiosity themselves or get a chance to play?  There are those who spoil their children rotten and make them prideful and without humility.  What of those who struggle about even what to put their faith in, fearing a repetition of past mistakes?  I was thinking about how would a person who lived in the inner city slums of Mumbai, or Rio find solitude?  And then of course what about those who have clinical psychological conditions like narcissism and thus are excessively self-centered?  How does the psychopath learn empathy when physically incapable of it?  While there may be some solutions to this, early recognition and special nurturing techniques are often necessary and so my words in this series may be nothing more than the words of someone who has, overall, had it pretty good.

One positive thing I have noticed in my life is that none of these qualities however belong to any one specific class, race, culture or region.  I have seen the poorest with the least reason to be generous and compassionate be more so than those with the means to bring more good into this world than they do.  And I have seen the busiest parents with little time for play themselves, make those sacrifices simply so that their children have that advantage.  Life is dynamic, and always changing.  Some qualities we may have to put to the side to move past a certain point where we can bring them back.  It would be idealistic to say we can have these qualities at all times, and in all places.  And while it would be nice if it were so, such utopian fantasies should never occupy our thoughts for too long.

If asked who I wrote this all for, I would say firstly for me.  That in itself may sound self-centered, but I desire to become more than I am always, and this journey has helped me greatly in recognize the areas in my life where I might know how I should be in theory, but haven’t been in practice.  It has helped me look at areas where I want to grow also.  But I think that I also wrote this series for those of you who do such a wonderful job exemplifying these qualities as well.  It is those who have been the fortunate in this world who, like rocks striking the surface of the pond can send ripples into the world to try and make it a better place.  And when I say fortunate I don’t mean that your life has all been a “walk in the park” (and certainly mine hasn’t always been either) but have overcome great adversity to be where you are now.  I also don’t list these qualities to emphasize that we should all be the same. As I have tried to make clear along the way we all exemplify different levels of these qualities, and as I mentioned above, sometimes we may suppress these qualities in ourselves to be able to foster it others, like our children.  I think a good human exemplifies these qualities, but our individuality is what decides which of these qualities drives us most strongly.  Some people may strive for more balance, others may selflessly always give their time to others, some may love learning and sharing that knowledge, others display great acts of courage that inspire.  I do think that all these qualities, should always exist as sparks within ourselves, and we should never let them go out.

I was talking to a friend yesterday and she asked me why I even blog.  And I guess central to who I am is that I believe that we are a lot more similar than we are different, and I want to always try to look at things that bring us together rather than those things that drive us apart.  So I guess in looking at things that make a good human, I wanted to try to see if I could come up with what I felt was a comprehensive but simple list of things that I’ve seen in my life that make the world a better place for all.  I am sure there are other things that might be added, and as I continue to grow and learn perhaps I would add things to this series.  But if we can all agree on at least 8 things, that then I think that is a good start. 🙂

Peace.

Swarn

What Makes A Good Human?: Play

In talking about what makes a good human, I wanted to clarify that this series isn’t trying to focus on solely qualities that are only virtuous in the eyes of others but also on qualities that are good personally.  I believe that the goodness we display outward and our energy and drive to become better are fostered also by the good things we do for ourselves.  I also want to highlight qualities that I think we would be well served to promote in society in general.

Stress is a killer.  Even if it hasn’t killed you yet, it’s likely making you tired, irritable, and is causing you to develop less than healthy eating habits and/or overusing drugs.  The volume of literature on health problems associated with stress is large.  As a result I can’t “stress” the importance of play enough.  The dictionary defines play as “engagement in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” Now I have a bit of a problem with this definition, because it depends on what is meant by practical. Reduced stress, happiness, and better health seem fairly practical to me. That being said I do understand the spirit of the dictionary definition since these tend not to be the reasons we play. We play because we want to have fun, so let’s look at what play is all about.

Now certainly when it comes to health there are many things we can do to improve our health, but not all of them qualify as play.  Exercise directly for the purpose of getting healthier, may be important, but often feels like work and doesn’t always reduce stress.  Although an overall sense of well-being can make the exercise feel worth it, but I would argue that it’s still not play.  Now one of the ways I like to exercise is by playing racquetball, because I find racquetball fun.  As a side product I also do get healthier, but if I had to jog to get healthy, it would feel like work and not play.  So as the definition states, play does have to be something you enjoy doing and that you find fun.  For most of us, our careers don’t count either.  Not that a career can’t be rewarding, fulfilling and bring happiness, but most jobs have at least some unpleasant parts, and a good deal of stress too, even if it is something you enjoy as a whole.

Leisure is a big part of play and I am sure some of my colleagues who teach recreation and leisure in my department could give me a more academic breakdown of the different types of leisure, but I don’t want to focus too much on that, but instead look at what makes leisure enjoyable. There is a difference in what one might call a leisurely activity and feelings of leisure.  There are plenty of people who take vacations, and probably spend half their time checking work e-mails etc, or sit there and worry about all the things they have to do when they get back.  I have been guilty of this myself, and in general it is not healthy.  One of the most important aspects of play, and therefore leisure, is that it must be an activity that absorbs you and allows you to live in the moment.

Life is, however, full of troubles and worries and these are often important and must be dealt with.  They often require a great deal of thought, planning, and energy.  And although hedonistic people tend to be the happiest, we can’t always afford to be that way.  So play is our escape; a way to lose ourselves in fun, joy, and pleasure.  No doubt the importance of play in life has been enhanced by having a child.  Play, for children, has been demonstrated to be extremely important.  More worrisome is that play for children has been declining.  As standardized testing continues to occupy more and more of a child’s time in the classroom and some school districts in the U.S. are not letting children play outside at temperature below 55 F (almost no kid in Canada would ever have recess), free play time is being eliminated or replaced with directed play, which is a developmentally important difference for children.  I remember recess play times where me and my friends would usually act out various cartoons, comics, TV shows, all taking different roles and of course those roles would get modified pretty significantly over the course of the recess break.  Every day was something different and for 15-30 minutes we were completely lost in what we are doing.  As the article I linked suggests play develops important social skills, and also children learn through play even if they don’t realize they are doing it.  Again this goes back to the spirit of the definition of play, it may seem like it is not serving a practical purpose but it is.  In playing with my child I find that I am laughing and losing track of time as well (at least until my toddler’s inexhaustible energy surpasses my own) and so playing with your child is not only important for them but also important for you.

As adults, play time is just as important.  This NPR article does a good job at looking at the different aspects of adult play and why it is important.  My favorite quotes from the article are:

“Play is something done for its own sake,” he explains. “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

And:

“I think it’s important for adults to be silly.”

I have long been a believer in the importance of silliness; like making silly faces, making silly motions or other slapstick-like comedy periods of complete nonsense, and giggling uncontrollably. Making others laugh and doing things that make us laugh is an extremely healthy activity.   Having people in your life that can make you laugh, or who have similar senses of humor can make life much richer and happier.  Playing games can also help keep adults sharp into old age, improving memory, coordination, and movement.  Adult play, as the article points out, can also involve sex.  You didn’t think I was going to leave sex out of this series did you?  While society tends to focus on the “love” aspect of sex (which is a limiting focus for sex, since sex and love are different biological drives) we also tend to forget that sex is fun.  You are in the moment and probably pretty happy during and after.

If there is a darker side of play, like any quality, it is letting it dominate your life.  We can’t play all the time, and as I mentioned there is time for being serious, feeling a little stress, and dealing with difficult situations.  But we can approach these situations fresher, more energetic and more skillfully when we do make time for play.  In the U.S. where leisure time is rapidly decreasing as we pursue the dollar over happiness it is ever more important that we make sure to make an effort to work play into our day.  I think inherently we all know this important but we let ourselves get swept away by the stresses of life and convince ourselves that we don’t have time.  Chances are you do and if you don’t think you do, start by literally trying to put “play” into your schedule.  I love playing racquetball and if I don’t block off that time for racquetball I will much more easily miss playing in favor of work.  By valuing play we not only help ourselves but we can also work to promote play in other areas of society, by giving children adequate playgrounds, by promoting play in school, and by making sure we do our best to help our friends and family play and have fun.

Let the Children Play

An idea had been running around in my head that, like oft times before, has required the harmony of 3 separate melodies that on the surface seem disparate and maybe even discordant:

  • Watching the behavior of my child as he grows
  • University politics
  • Interacting with some wonderful people at a wedding I went to recently

The idea is that we might all still actually be children.  Of course this isn’t altogether too radical of an idea, but it seems to me that we too often separate “the child” from “the adult” and it has been observation that perhaps the distinction between the two is somewhat arbitrary or at least highly subjective, depending on your definition of the two categories.

From http://www.kidspot.com.au

It has been a disappointing realization in a lot of ways that when I look at the behavior of some of the professionals at the university that their behavior is not too professional.  Perhaps I simply expected more out of a number of people with advanced degrees, but of course it is not different from any other workplace.  There are people that are petty, there are people that throw tantrums when they don’t get their way, there are people that are petulant, there are people that lie in order to not take responsibility, there are bullies who try to boss the other people around, and there are people who think the world is ending because in a metaphorical sense they’ve dropped their ice cream cone.  These qualities all seem quite understandable for a child to have.  Since they are still unsure of how the world works and how to properly interact with others we expect these behaviors in young people and as parents help correct this behavior.  But much to my surprise these behaviors are not something everybody grows out of and just as we think these behaviors will get us what we want as a child, there are many who see them as valid ways to act as adults.  I suspect that it does sometimes work or else they might change.  It’s simply unfortunate that they don’t see that there are other behaviors that a higher chance of success, but perhaps more importantly, lead to a better personal sense of well-being and happiness.

At a wedding this past weekend I met some wonderful people who are just easy to be around and a couple of them talked about how they felt like they’ve never really grown up.  I often feel that

From http://www.coulourbox.com

way too, but unlike the negative child behaviors I discussed previously these people demonstrated those things we love to see in children.  There were people who had a child-like wonder and fascination with the world, loved to play and be silly, were made happy by the simple things in life, loved to pretend for fun,  and took joy in just making you laugh or smile.

Now I may have overstated the idea a bit that we are just big children, but I think that there is definitely a child inside all of us and it might be worth asking the question “What child is inside of me?”  Is it the child that makes us others marvel and smile, or is it the child that drains other people’s energy, stresses them out or makes people just want to run away screaming?  As I watch my child grow it’s clear that behavior is not simply a result of innocence or naivety.  It’s clear that sometimes he just wants to play and sometimes he just wants to let out a yell so we look his way and pay attention to him.  As one grows and gains knowledge of the world, it doesn’t seem like any loss of innocence precludes any child-like behavior.

Sometimes in the face of the weight of the world a little time out for playing is probably the best way to maintain some sanity and gain one’s strength to keep pushing forward.  Sometimes when what you know seems sad, perhaps it’s time to learn about something else, or go some place new so your eyes can open with wonder.  Sometimes when you’re not smiling, do something nice for someone else and make them smile and see how much better you feel.  I think it’s important to carry with us the best part of childhood always, and I hope that as my child grows I can help him hold on to those beautiful qualities that give me such joy to watch now.

 

 

 

At Play

Waiting for the sound,

A light to blink,

Fidgeting and sighing,

Distracting myself from time,

It’s so much fun right now,

I have a talent for it,

It might only last a week

A stupid word here ,

A poor performance there,

And then it’s *poof*

The show was over.

Peeking under the curtains

 

But we were actors,

Acting as our real selves,

Just with a few costumes,

And a couple ripped stitches,

And we all got better,

And didn’t get any worse,

We behaved a little younger,

And talked a little older,

Taking a small chance here,

Being a little cautious there

But I think we can relax,

Because it’s going to be okay.

If it’s not too late

I see you fold and stretch, darting in and out of shadows,

An invitation, a visitation, never staying for too long,

What drives you? What scares you?

From http://images.nationalgeographic.com

Such a swirl of talent, a whirl under fingers

I watch you spin, and I am hypnotized,

By just the essence of your grace and beauty,

Your strategies are practiced, stepping in time with music,

Looking back and forth, weary of space around you,

If I brought you to the light, would I lose you in the sun?

If I opened the cage, how far would you run?

If the levee came down, what would pour out?

 

Is it too late for rescue?

 

I wade into the water, and we laugh and splash

And then we dance in time with the ebb and flow

Floating as friends playing like children,

Then you’d close your eyes and drift softly to sleep