What Are Moments of Play That Can Heal The World?

Jeff Harry
2 min readOct 12, 2023

I’ve spoken a great deal about dismantling patriarchy and hierarchy through play. One of the best examples is Christmas In The Trenches, and how a World War was stopped for a day by play.

This statue in Liverpool, England that I took behind the Bombed Out Church is of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Five months into World War I, “men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in caroling. Men played games of football with one another, creating one of the most memorable images of the truce. Hostilities continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.”
A possible picture from one of the Christmas Truce gatherings.
“Christmas in the Trenches is a ballad from John McCutcheon’s 1984 album Winter Solstice. It tells the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce between the British and German lines on the Western Front during the Great War from the perspective of a fictional British soldier. Although Francis Tolliver is a fictional character, the event depicted in the ballad is true. McCutcheon met some of the German soldiers involved in this Christmas story when he toured in Denmark.

Since then, I’ve been curious about what other gestures of play are happening that have helped heal division, bring together community, brought a smile to people’s faces during tough times, providing a space for people to be seen and heard, or simply seeing someone own their own play, doing the thing that makes them come most alive, inspiring others to do the same.

Rediscovering Your Play Helps You Discover What Makes You Come Most Alive

I figured, why not gather them here? As more come up, I’ll continue to add them to this list. So, I need your help. Here are the types of play I’m looking for:

  • Play Impacting The Community
  • Play Bringing Joy For A Day
  • Play Providing Space For People To Be Seen & Heard
  • Play Impacting The Community
  • People Owning Their Play Bringing Happiness To Our Lives

If you find more examples, feel free to leave a comment in the article, email me at jeff@rediscoveryourplay.com, or message me on IG at @jeffharryplays or LinkedIn.

Thank you for your help!

Play Impacting The Community

“Gangs entering Chicago parks is a chronic problem in the city’s violence epidemic, but today, the story was different. In the North Pullman neighborhood, rival gang members have joined forces with volunteers to help build a playground as a reward for eight months without violence in the neighborhood.” — CBS News
Johnny Barnes, was a Bermudian native found waving to passing traffic at the Foot of the Lane roundabout in Hamilton, Bermuda, from roughly 3:45 am to 10 am, every workday, rain or shine. A Bermuda institution mentioned in several guidebooks and profiled in two documentary films, he was known for waving and saying “I love you” to passing commuters in Hamilton during the morning rush hour. Due to the unique layout of the island and its roads, nearly all drivers at rush hour coming from the western and southern areas of the island passed Barnes at the roundabout.
In 2012, a chance encounter between a filmmaker and a nine-year-old entrepreneur sparked a worldwide movement celebrating creativity, play and the power of imagination. On the last day of summer, Nirvan Mullick met Caine Monroy, a 9-year-old boy who built an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his dad’s East LA auto parts shop. Nirvan was Caine’s first customer. Amazed by the boy’s creativity, Nirvan organized a flash mob of customers to surprise Caine and make his day. Then he made a film about it. Widely cited as one of the most inspirational stories of 2012, the 11-minute film has been viewed over 8 million times, sparking a wave of cardboard creativity from backyards to classrooms around the globe and launching Imagination.org whose mission is to foster creativity and entrepreneurship in children around the world.
Clowns Without Borders was created in 1993 to deal with the suffering caused by the war in the former Yugoslavia, especially for children. They are professional clowns or circus artists who volunteer their time and talent to give children the opportunity to be just that — children
Gerard’s House is here for everyone in our community who is grieving. Because so many families experience barriers when they need grief support, we energetically focus on reaching the city’s most vulnerable grieving youth — kids who have immigrated from war-torn and impoverished regions, kids coping with homelessness and kids who have attempted suicide.
What can a 5-year-old learn from a 95-year-old? At Seattle’s Providence Mount St. Vincent nursing home, that question is answered daily. You see, “The Mount” also houses a child care center of 125 tots. And the full cycle of life on display is magic.
Playback Theater has been used to address controversial subjects where stories are played back as a way to process and heal. Living Arts Playback Thater is one of those Ensembles that has brought communities together that most thought could never come together.
CreatiVets empowers wounded veterans to heal through music and the arts.
Songkran is Thailand’s most famous festival. An important event on the Buddhist calendar, this water festival marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year. The name, Songkran, comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘passing’ or ‘approaching’. Outside, Songkran is celebrated with street parties featuring loud music and a giant friendly water fight. People collect water in buckets, squirt guns, and anything else they can find, then hit the streets to splash each other playfully. It’s a good thing April is one of the hottest months of the year in Thailand!
The original Darfur United (DU) is a men’s soccer team of resettled refugees from Darfur, based in Östersund, Sweden. In a joint effort with the Darfuri refugee community, the UN Refugee Agency, and soccer fans, iACT, an NGO that provides humanitarian action to aid, empower, and extend hope to those affected by mass atrocities, formed DU in 2012.
Cats rule the world and prison cats Galileo and Belle rule the Larch Correctional facility in the first episode of the new SHEBA® documentary series, The Cats That Rule The World by Academy Award Nominated director Geoffrey O’Connor.
La Tomatina is a food fight festival held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Buñol (history) near to Valencia in Spain. Thousands upon thousands of people make their way from all corners of the world to fight in this ‘World’s Biggest Food Fight’ where more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets.
Soldiers Who Salsa teaches salsa dancing to wounded, ill and injured U.S. Military and their families as a part of physical and recreational therapy.
Raising Arizona Kids talked to Cardon Children’s Child Life Specialist Mindy Mesneak about the value of medical play and the role it plays in helping to heal young patients.
On Tuesday, September 13th, 2016, 2 years from the day that 7-Year-Old James “Jamesy” Raffone was diagnosed with the rare disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), we, Play-Well TEKnologies (play-well.org) collaborated with Jar of Hope (jarofhope.org), to break the record for the World’s Longest LEGO Chain. With the help of many volunteers, Jamesy’s classmates, as well as devoted teachers and principals from both Clark Mills School and Milford Brook School, we were able to break the record by 12 meters.

Play Bringing Joy To Someone’s Day

The Fun Theory — an initiative of Volkswagen. This is one of a series of experiments for a new brand campaign of VW. Have a look — the piano stairs are really funny. Fun can obviously change behavior for the better T
Another Fun Theory experiment. The “FAST LANE. Driven by Fun.” is dedicated to people who like to speed things up a little.
More than 200 dancers were performing their version of “Do Re Mi”, in the Central Station of Antwerp. with just 2 rehearsals they created this amazing stunt! Those 4 fantastic minutes started the 23 of march 2009, 08:00 AM. It is a promotion stunt for a Belgian television program, where they are looking for someone to play the leading role, in the musical of “The Sound of Music”.
Improv Everywhere is known in NY for Causing Scenes that bring together community. This is their most recent MP3 Experiment which they do annually.
The Happiness Sprinkling Project Happiness Sprinkling Project is crazy simple. And crazy powerful. A group of people get together, wearing bright yellow shirts. They gather at a busy spot in the town where they live. They hold up Signs. Happiness Signs. Signs that say stuff like It’s Going to be All Right and Breathe and You are Loved. They do this for an hour and as they do so, magic happens.

Play Providing Space For People To Be Seen, Heard, & Transform

For years, Al Nixon has been helping residents in St. Petersburg, Florida, who are seeking some advice, even though he’s not a therapist. Steve Hartman with an update on Nixon’s story in “On the Road.”
Patch Adams is best known for his work as a medical doctor and a clown, but he is also a social activist who has devoted over 40 years of his life to changing America’s healthcare system. He believes that laughter, joy and creativity are an integral part of the healing process and, with the help of friends, he founded the Gesundheit Institute in 1971 in order to address all the problems of health care in one model.
Orly’s listening table is a place people can experience what it feels like to be really listened to, which is a rarer thing than it should be. The listening table is a symbol for people to see and think about their own listening skills. Orly started the table because hewanted to be a better listener.
Daryl Davis is a jazz musician who engages directly with members of the Ku Klux Klan to broaden their worldviews. He has directly inspired over 200 Klansmen to leave the organization, and dismantled the Klan’s operation in the state of Maryland. Davis spoke with Garrett Walker in July.
Jane Elliott first gave this lesson on April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It’s called the “Blue Eyes — Brown Eyes” exercise, and it teaches a lesson on discrimination. Our words come with consequences, both good and bad. Our words still have power to bring down the Black & Indigenous communities today.

People Owning Their Play Bringing Happiness To Our Lives

Watch how Kyle Schultz turned playing neighborhood wiffle ball into the world’s most popular wiffle ball league, connecting athletes and fans through the shared passion of the sport.
Improv Everywhere turned a standard Carousel in Central Park into one of the most exciting races for kids. The power to take something ordinary and turn it into one of the most memorable days for kids.
Walter Lewin, through play, shows how much he trusts the laws of physics to his students. Also, below, Dr. Tatiana, also showing her passion and love for science by playing in class.
Chrissy is a Dentist and mom, who started filming herself dancing to classic hip-hop songs during the pandemic. Well, her videos became so popular as they brought so much happiness to people’s lives during such a tough time that now she is known worldwide for her dances and funny videos, which started simply in her kitchen.
Jelle’s Marble Runs is a YouTube channel based in the Netherlands centered on marbles, marble runs and marble races. It is run by the brothers Jelle and Dion Bakker. The channel spoofs the Olympic Games, Formula One, and other sporting events with marbles and treats the cast of marbles as though they were athletes. They became so popular worldwide that John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show has sponsored them.
One of the most popular dances of 2023, D Soraki became one with the music at the Red Bull Dance Competition and got the crowd to feel his dance.
How the Savannah Bananas have become the greatest show in baseball | SportsCenter The Savannah Bananas have made going to a baseball game an experience and have become the greatest show in the game. In September 2023, they had an exhibit in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
They Thought They Were Alone, But The Deputy Didn’t Know A Secret Camera Was Filming Everything The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, in Colorado Springs, Colorado have been experiencing ongoing elevator malfunctions, so the maintenance crew installed a camera in the elevator to diagnose the problem, and they captured something that was not intended
Kid President went from giving a pep talk, to being a YouTube sensation that brought joy and play to people’s lives worldwide.

Honorable Mentions of Impactful Play

This trombone player serenades cattle and it becomes a concert.
The power of music and play. Henry is a 94-year-old nursing home resident with dementia. After therapy, he is claimed to become more animated, recalling aspects of his past he had not been able to answer before.
In 2011, residents from Clark Retirement Community in Grand Rapids, Michigan, teamed up with Grand Valley State University Film & Video Production students, alumni, and professors to create this sweet lip dub.
JK Wedding Entrance Dance” is a viral video originally uploaded to YouTube on July 19, 2009, featuring the wedding of Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz,[1] using “Forever” by Chris Brown as the song for their wedding march.[2] In its first 48 hours, the video accumulated more than 3.5 million views. The original upload of the video was the third most popular video on YouTube in 2009, and as of July 2021 had been viewed over 100 million times.[3] Time magazine ranked the video at number fifteen on its list of the fifty greatest YouTube videos. It also inspired part of the episode of the sitcom, The Office.
Where The Heck Is Matt? Matthew Harding is an American traveler, video game designer, and Internet celebrity who is known as Dancing Matt, for his viral videos that show him dancing in front of landmarks and street scenes in various international locations.
Bring Your Own Big Wheel race was conceived in the mind of a mad man named Jon Brumit. As legend has it, in 2000 Jon happened across a big wheel. He wondered what he should do with it and much like the apple that fell on Newton’s head, Jon had the vision of riding his newly found plastic toy down Lombard Street. Over 20 years later, this event still happens on Easter Sunday.
The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is an annual event held on the Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper’s Hill, near Gloucester in England.[1] Participants race down the 200-yard (180 m) long hill chasing a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. The event has a long tradition, held by the people of the local village of Brockworth, but now people from all over the world take part
#HybridBharatham is Usha Jey’s way of switching between Hip-Hop and Bharathanatyam, 2 dances that she love, learn and respect. Her aim is to keep the essence of each dance and create something that do justice to who I am. This dance became so popular in 2022, the group was asked to perform at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The famous dance, Kid The Wiz, came together with dancers in NYC to create one of the most popular subway dances ever filmed in New York.
Feathers fly at this fun, flash-mob type event which typically takes place annually on Valentine’s Day. It’s Pillow Fight. In the past, nearly 1,000 San Franciscans descended on Justin Herman Plaza with feather-stuffed pillows to run Braveheart-like at full speed at one another to lovingly beat the crap out of each other until their arms fall off.
Dancers in Oakland celebrate the life of their fallen brother, Dreal. They express their sadness, anger, joy, and all of the emotions on the corner where they may have lost him.
Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch (Oct. 23, 1960 — July 25, 2008) gave his last lecture at the university Sept. 18, 2007, before a packed McConomy Auditorium. Professor Pausch had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and only had a few months to live when he gave this talk. In his moving presentation, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals. What he spoke of more than anything is the power of play to help him achieve his childhood dreams.



Jeff Harry

Workplace Positive Psychology Play Whisperer / Helping Fortune 500 Companies Build Psychologically Safe Workspaces Through Positive Psychology & Play