Friday, November 12, 2010

It's Child's Play

 If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.
John Cleese, English actor, writer

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher 

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.
Heraclitus, Greek philosopher 

Children can teach us, notably things we have long forgotten. Yes, indeed, for some essential ideas on life, the roles are reversed, the decided order is reversed, the hierarchy is inverted, and the weak teach the strong.

I can hear the arguments from certain quarters. And they are, of course, right and righteous in their knowledge of the right order of things. So be it. But others, those with a heart and an ear for humanity, love to play, laugh and love, like a child. The sound is delicious and joyful.

Yet, certain people don't like the sound of laughter, even the uncensored laugh of a child, and the delightful squeals of play that accompany it. That says much about their spirit of freedom and humanity, which is bared to see. Too many adults, on the other hand, are rigid and stoic, fearful to reveal such emotions, tucking them away in the dark corner. They are the consummate and complete masters of self-control and are loudly applauded for such measures, as unnatural as they often might be. There is never a time for pure joy.

Such is the way of conventional morality, and the need for the many to conform to society's norms and mores. Such people laugh, but not about the same things we do. They laugh about misery. They laugh about poverty. They laugh about their superiority. Such is called dark humour, although there is nothing amusing about it. It is rather perverse.

Aristotle wrote about the need for a cathartic experience to release the tension in Poetics.

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions. By 'language embellished,' I mean language into which rhythm, 'harmony' and song enter. . . .
Translated by S. H. Butcher

Henrik Ibsen: "I believe that first and foremost I am an individual."
Photograph taken in 1900. Photo Credit: Gustav Borgen (1865–1926).
The modern drama depicts what happens when the emotions are hidden away; they tend to seep out, often in unhealthy and sometimes perverse ways. The language becomes emotionally inarticulate, devoid of heartfelt sincerity, a perversion of language's honest intent to communicate clearly. Speeches become in a great sense meaningless, delivered with some purpose, yet divorced from the everyday reality of ordinary people.

In many ways, such behaviour explains how today's political and moneyed elites communicate with us, or, rather, do not communicate with us. Their communication network is private and closed. Plays, or modern drama, capture the conflicts of the modern age, particularly when penned by skilled artists. Henrik Ibsen, the Father of Modern Drama, wrote his plays with this in mind. Other writers followed, looking into the mysteries of language, including Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, each the master of dialogue and the power of  the unsaid.

Misery often pays a visit. Tension is often created by the unsaid expectation, between societal norms and individual freedom. There is a decided contrast between action and dialogue. What is at stake, as always, is individual freedom and humanity. Societal norms, during different periods, attack such virtues, since these virtues tend to define the essence of who we are.

To wear our humanity well is to show clearly that we are human. This is of course inescapable, yet some people try to escape it by various methods. Children, however, play and live by a different set of rules, led by their heart rather than their head. Children are not worried about their place in society, nor are they concerned about how much self-control they wield. There is little mastery of the emotions. No, nothing of the sort.

They know nothing or little about irony, sarcasm, double-entendres and other figures of speech. Their emotions are worn on their sleeves, so to speak. And their hearts are large, full of fun, laughter and playfulness. And freedom. What a delicious lesson adults can learn from children.

If only we stop, listen and look.

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