The Power of Play To Confront Injustice

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When I saw the photos this week of the “Teeter-Totter Wall” designed by Professors Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, I was reminded of the power of play to point out the absurdity of injustice in the world. The symbolism of kids playing on a seesaw on opposite sides of a wall speaks volumes to what people yearn for: a willingness to connect, a calling to come together to do what is right, and a joy in seeing the humanity in each other.

This massive wall, spanning 649 miles and 4 states, was easily overpowered for at least a day by 3 seesaws and a few kids on either side willing to play. To believe that such an immense amount of hate can be quelled by simple gestures of love, humanity, and play, gives me hope.

I define play as the simple act that brings you joy, a sense of fulfillment, and makes you fully present.

This power of play to defy injustice has existed throughout recent history. Look at what kids have done with walls that have separated them before:

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Children playing at the Berlin Wall in 1963, even painting parts of the wall
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Palestinian children painting a wall on the West Bank
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Yemeni children draw on the walls of University of Sana’a to react to the ongoing war in the country — 3/15/17

Play becomes the defiant form of protest.

Even adults have used protest play to challenge the establishment, risking their own life to communicate a small humane gesture:

Taken on October 21, 1967, during the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam’s “March on The Pentagon”, the photo shows a Vietnam War protester placing a carnation into the barrel of a rifle held by a soldier of the 503rd Military Police Battalion.

That same power of play can be used to mend wounds that seem all but impossible to fix. Take for example, two separate stories of rival gangs finding peace through play:

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Two rivals inner city Chicago gangs that called a truce and commemorated it by constructing a playground together so that their families could play together.
Rival Crip Gangs Are Playing Softball To Make Peace In LA

Finally, the power of play can stop a war, even if just for a day.

In 1914 during a World War I Christmas Day cease fire, German and English soldiers started to sing Silent Night together. Shortly after, one brave soldier from each side ventured out to no man’s land and shook hands. The truce culminated in soldiers meeting on the battleground, sharing whiskey, stories, and even a game of soccer. This happened in many parts of the front-lines that day.

Play, much of the time, is discounted as an act mostly done by kids, but it has been the power of play that has brought people together even when powers have used hate and difference to divide us. It’s play that has challenged power and brought humanity where little existed. It’s play that lifted the veil of injustice to show the absurdity within. It’s play that has mended long held wounds and even halted wars.

The sheer act of play is a defiant protest. And when you can create a movement that has one of its roots in play, something as small as a person brave enough to dance alone can create a remarkable result as seen here:

An example of how one brave soul playing can create something magical

So the next time tragedy strikes and you are looking for a way to contribute, as Mr. Rogers would say, look to the helpers as they are the ones using play to bring a sense of safety amongst the senselessness.

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Written by

Positive Psychology Play Speaker & Coach / Find Ways To Rediscover Your Play at RediscoverYourPlay.com

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