A defense for the perpetuity of the play instinct
by Billy Gard

Q & A

Hi. We’re Frog and Toad. Billy has asked us to take you out to play.
We’re here to show you that if you feel like you just gotta get out in the warm sun and
run and jump around like us, it’s really quite all right.


You may take this question as mere poetic fancy. But here it goes anyway. But when was the last time you did a cartwheel? Rolled down a hill? Splashed around in the water? Hopped in the air? Rode on a swing? Skipped? If I am any good at predicting your answer, it would be “When I was nine years old. You are kidding, right?” No, actually, I’m not. It seems necessary to point out that as children we did what is the perfect exercise. Then we all grew up, and now are asking ourselves “How can we make exercise enjoyable so we stick to it?” In fact, just take a look at how the banishing of play after age 9 has directed the entire evolution of the English language:

“Act your age.”
“Children’s play area”
“Young at heart”
“Little-boy smile.”
“Happy as a school boy”
“Youthful energy”
“My husband’s just a big kid.”
“You’re only young once.”
And of course, the rather long-winded “There is nothing more pathetic than a grown man trying to be an adolescent.” (i.e. too happy).

See how they inextricably bind together the concept of joyful energy with that of childhood. As you can see, it is a true observation someone has made that history has never once shown the majority being right. I declare war on these cherished idioms (meaning “written by an idiot”).

If you think that it is according to sound social science to fold up our wings and stop playing at the age of ten, you may want to take a gander at some other things the same innovaters have decreed with equal authority:

Children have now become the little errand boys which we send to do those things we know we ought to do but do not want to do. We want to reserve our right to be petty, so we have the children practice courtesy. We want to maintain our stature and dignity, so we have the children do the playing for us. The only problem is that they also get to keep the payback for these.

If culture is your guide, you better be good at contradicting yourself. It even holds opposing views about play itself. It blesses in theory the idea of adults who can still play, but blesses in practice only the play of children. Explanation: we know in our heart of hearts play is good, but we also know that we would have to stand alone to actually practice it, and thus be stared at, because people just aren’t doing it. The fact that we let the dysfunctional adults take the initiative in being playful has created a pathetic image in our mind of why an adult would play, resulting in an understandable unwillingness to be seen at play.

How do you know real playfulness when you see it? What does it look like? It is a helplessly vulnerable cheerfulness, a dangerously unprotected friendliness. It is the look and walk of a cartoon character. It is the distinguishing characteristic of a mascot. It is apparent forgetfulness of which way is down. It is a quick and shameless tendency toward gymnastic behavior. It is the liberal use of sound effects (like Pingggg when riding over a counting hose, or an airplane sound as you slide down a bannister). It is that firey courage in you that dares you to skip stones, kick your heels, short cut by vaulting over a fence, and sing with commercials.

I am sure of having it pointed out to me how many adults “play”. Watch them “play” golf, tennis, shuffleboard, vollyball, rugby. But I cannot help asking, why do adults always have to play something? What I have in mind is the kind of play used as an intransitive verb, which is something different. It is the kind seen on a playground, rolling, jumping, roll-playing, horseplay, the one kind that really doesn’t have a name for it except - well play. A preset menu of play activites “approved for adult use” presumes upon the willingness of thinking individuals to continue to be “parented” after we have grown up. And this is what is really childish. In all fairness, adult sports do reveal that we continue to have a play instinct in spite of ourselves. The problem I am targeting comes to light when an adult is caught stepping outside the safe harbor of approved activities, and the dignity police nab him at once and try to save him from himself. After all, thinking for yourself is something you are supposed to only do when your brain is in its young formative years. Upon maturity it’s time to fold up your wings and take your place in line with the other sheep. This is what I am angry at and this is what I want you angry at.

Dignifiedness can only be considered natural when you are willing to embrace along with it the body’s natural responses to this dignity: creeping weight gain, lost flexibility, poor circulation, weak heart, high blood pressure, nerve damage, constipation, sleep disturbances, and depression, tres beaucoup medications, in short, a very “high-mantanance” body. You better have real generous health insurance or a lot of money if you plan to embark on the path of adult dignity. But this goes with the territory. Either we aren’t considering the consequences of dignifiedness because we figure we don’t have the option of acting on that knowledge, or else we simply don’t know the consequences even exist. Just as certainly as adults are playless, they provide nothing to recommend their practice of playlessness. On the contrary, adults won’t shut up about how they “wish they were kids again”. Adults are actually quite honest about knowing they aren’t making the choice that is going to help them. But they add that it is not their own choice since becoming an adult has outsourced that decision to other powers.

I see two models of the rhythm of life that need to be described here: According to the traditional one, the one people will probably commend themselves to believing in:

Adults are living what is the main part of life. Childhood is the preparatory period during which we are being trained up for that main portion to come. The reason for doing something as a child is because you want to learn to do it with greater excellence as an adult. The job of parents is to bring their children through this preparation.

However, the play-is-for-children-only model is the one typically followed in practice and has its foundation on an entirely different paradigm:

Childhood is the main part of life, the part where we are really living (playing, laughing, whatever). i.e. everything worth doing should be done when you are a child. But adulthood is like the sitting-out period that follows our life, where you step out from the musical of life to oversee the next generation as they live out their childhood.

In summary, model 1) Childhood is when you rehearse, and adulthood is where you perform. model 2) Childhood is when you perform, and adulthood is when you direct the next performer. As an adult, with childhood totally behind you, what would you consider the more cheerful model to live by? I am reminded of two scenarios for a carnival ride: 1) each person pays the admission, and then gets on the ride; or 2) each person gets on the ride, and then pays for the next person’s admission.

Evidently when you think about it, play is the only thing ever restrained on the sole basis of dignity alone. All other things restrained by dignity are much more firmly restrained by something entirely practical, like morality or health. So if our dignity were to disappear overnight, the only thing that would be unleashed is joy and playfulness. You may have thought more shocking things would erupt as well, but that is giving dignity too much credit. Dignity isn’t the basis for chastity, good manners, health, or even godliness. For all real virtues are their own reward, while dignity is not. It is the only “lone ranger” virtue, independent of anything else that may really be a virtue. If dignity is a virtue, then the onus is not on me to explain why it is the only virtue that is practiced without fail by even the most savage social dissidents. Is that the kind of dignity to cherish and nurture? It sounds like something to be cured.

Besides, when adults do play, they play like adults. They still fear they are breaking some rule by playing, and so at least try to look apologetic. They look like they are going about their sport with the handbook Call Me Mister balanced on their heads, and are afraid to drop it. Look closely at them. How can anybody possibly waterski, roller-skate, or drive a scooter with furled eyebrows and veins sticking out of their face and neck? Yes. Adults do that! Leave it to adults to be unplayful even when they are playing! This is what dignity has done to us. Somewhere out there is a culture that has never heard of being too old to play. Getting your exercise is not a problem there. Ex-o-cycles, blood pressure pills, stress management, and athletic clubs would be unheard of there. And never once would you hear anyone there wish they “were a kid again”. Noone would insult the attainment of adulthood by talking like that!

In the school I came from kids between 18 and 21 had “a very real problem” because for 3 years they are too young to drink and too old to skate! Am I to understand those two to be similarly binding? I guess it is a real fix because the government is unwilling to lower the drinking age, and of course there can never be the thought of raising the skating age. It was phrased as if expecting to be met with totally universal nod of understanding, rather than quickly responding to the elephant in the room: “What’s this too-old-to-skate crap? My 55-year old dad skates.” It is this very behavior of staring the solution glased-eyed in the face and totally missing it which is the cause not only of this problem but of every problem mankind ever knew.

A lack of willpower is no longer an excuse for our imperfections. Because any man who will never again splash in the water, climb a tree, sing funny songs, or wear a costume because he is “too old for that” has a willpower more amazing than a sufi mystic who can bend a spoon by looking at it. Such a one should have no trouble living a perfect life free of any slip in thought, word or deed. I can’t give up playing even as long as I can hold my breath, yet that is exactly what is expected of every one of us for the rest of our lives once we grow up. Our bodies weren’t designed to be able to last that long trying to stay dignified. If God intended for adults to live as they do, He would not have given us any quick-twitch muscles. We could get our work done fine without them if you stop and think about it.

There appear to be two kinds of people known for being more playful than others, the mentally retarded, and geniuses. In the first case is a condition that obstructs the ability to learn. And since dignity is a learned behavior, this puts them at a distinct advantage. That’s why mentally retarded people seem to be full of life and make everyone they touch feel like they’ve just been to Disneyland. They are forced to rely on simply what works, because they are not good at learning alternatives. Geniuses, on the other hand, happen to learn so well that they can also judge when they are being asked to learn something that is only going to bring them harm. It is for this reason that there is a tendency to confuse these two groups of people. It is the in between people, the “level-headed” people, who have just enough learning capacity to be dangerous. They get the general gist, but they can’t split hairs. They accept the dignity lesson like candy from a stranger.

If you are a normal in between person, you will have to take my lesson here by the same blind faith you had when you learned to stop being silly and act dignified. You will only be able to validate what I say by jumping out of your skin for 15 seconds and doing it and seeing how it all works. Then the fog will lift. Now playfulness is no longer immature; it is supermature; it is alert and connected to its audience, and in fact maybe the most deeply disciplined thing you can be! It skips circles around the dignified person. And it takes under its wing the person stepping out tremblingly for the first time onto the playground as an adult. It cannot be recovered from, because it is a recovery itself.

The experience of playing for the first time since 9 is like ducking under water just to see what it’s like, and after fifteen seconds you discover you are a fish, and were being asphyxiated by air the whole time.

There is one peephole that lets us see through the dignity barrier to the playful person that is really there. Just pick up a pencil, and we seem to not even have an age. Did you notice that? The last time I saw Mickey Mouse walk across the screen I didn’t spot the slightest trace of dignity in the animation. But a kid didn’t draw it. This is why, when the pressure is really on, cartoonists are the most dearly beloved people in the world. Mickey walks in such a delightful way that his smile is largely redundant (Whether Walt Disney was a playful person I haven’t a clue). Drawing doesn’t occur in real time, so it bypasses the sensory-motor part of us that was forced to grow up. This lets us poke through the neurological fog and see through to to our inward knowledge of what ideal humanity should be like. That is why I strongly recommend the study of cartoon characters when encouraging playfulness.

We don’t grow up in our dreams either, by the way. Even in our dignified old age, we have dreams in which we skip down the sidewalk giggling, or hop in large, slow bounds across the landscape and down what appear to be endless flights of stairs, or ride a motorcycle and smile brightly and go Weeee as we do it (which you know real cyclists never do). It is after you wake up from this dream and try to do these in real life that you will become aware for the first time of a brick wall you never knew was there. Somehow adults in their waking life cannot unlock their bodies, be vulnerably happy and cheerful and have the natural high. The whole nervous system says no. But one can walk through this brick wall, simply by deciding that certain things don’t really matter. Just act like they don’t and discover that it is actually true. The secret is to note that the “I feel like a fool” signal is from the nerves and stop responding to it. The signal will deteriorate from the absence of validation. You will have reprogrammed a nervous system that scientists today still think is hardcoded.

Not only are we horrified of the idea of doing it, but we police others’ attempts to do it. We say we are being “our brother’s keeper” and protecting them from themselves, lest they “lose their dignity”. People aren’t protecting you from your play instinct to care for you, but for their own sake. They just don’t like seeing anyone entering into this ominous glory while they themselves are held back by their own nerves.

You should be totally clear on one point at the beginning. Playfulness is not the same as “jolliness”. People all over are accomplished at the art of being jolly. But even among them, less than 1 per cent are playful. I’ll take the company of a dignified person over many jolly people I’ve known. A typical older person can be “jolly” without getting winded. But get him going on playfulness, and he will go to bed groaning in pain over a thousand muscles he never knew were there. When jolly people are having fun, they “tell their face about it.” But when playful people are, they tell their body about it. Essentially it’s the difference between Ha-ha-ha-ho-ho-ho and Weeeeeeeee-ha-ha-ha-ha!. Simple and to the point, Santa is jolly, but his elves are playful.

How to Lose Weight Without Dieting or Working Out. Did you ever notice that children go out to play, and adults go out to “work out?” The whole idea of stationary exercise equipment is inspired by the idea that you can get the exercise you need without actually playing. The ad should say “Now lose your weight, not your dignity” Plenty of people can run 10 miles a day, or pedal an exercise bike for 5 hours a day, and still get out of breath if the small fry try can get them to play horse for a minute. Somehow I but wonder if the idea that kids are fitter because they are younger is just an excuse. Could we be dreading the possibility that it is useless to try to look like a boy unless we act like one?

It has been said that you can tell the age of a man by the price of his toys. But I would more accurately put it that a child’s toy is a toy that you play on (or with), and an adult’s toy is one that plays for you.

Could it be kids are doing the one perfect exercise that athletic clubs don’t want you to know about? We all know instinctively (although maybe not knowingly) that even 10 minutes a day on the playground is more conditioning than 10 hours a day on an ex-O-cycle. Playing offers at least five advantages: 1) Playing forces various muscle groups to all interact in unpredictable ways, developing great coordination. 2) Playing has a deceptively high total movement content, thus giving a really intense workout. 3) Playing spreads this movement thin among the different muscle groups, and so overuse injuries and stiffness of unused muscles aren’t a problem. 4) Playing makes the brain interact creatively with the muscles, making you think sharper and making boredom impossible. 5) Playing exposes your body mass to G forces in all directions, stimulating every cell’s corrective mechanisms. Any other exercise is missing at least one of these advantages. Maybe I’m supposed to be thankful that God designed our bodies so bewilderingly complex that keeping its entirety in good condition is impossible to do with dignity. Good health is not dignified!

According to my theory, a body confined to just a few dignified movements overworks some muscles and locks up others. Play can be considered the application of “free market economics” to your exercise. A person who can let his body play has a special sensitivity to his body’s exercise needs. In the course of his activity, the playful person unconsciously adjusts his play activity in such a way that his movements emphasize the muscles needing the most exercise and also ease up on the muscles needing rest. That means both over-use and under-use ailments are minimized. This need-based conditioning extends of course to your nervous system and brain as well, giving them the same self-adjusting workout. This could explain why there seem to be body positions that can be described as “playful”. Since our usual dignified adult postures are quite standardized, the compensatory movements that arise when we are turned loose is bound to have certain characteristic looks as well. We point our legs straight down, stand tall, and furl our eyebrows when being dignified. So it is explainable that in “play” mode we may squat, spread our legs, and get wide-eyed. Our body is trying to catch up on conditioning that we aren’t getting when we are “in protocol”. The body’s healing power is thus gloriously liberated. This must explain why people who rebel and start to become playful experience a friendlier disposition, a sounder sleep, a disappearance of nervous disorders, quicker healing of injuries, a loss of the stubbornist kind of fat, and people shouting at you to grow up. So your exercise sessions don’t need to be long as long as they are wide.

You may have noticed that there is a cascading market in stress management. When you carefully track a young life, you make the surprising discovery that all the familiar signs of stress begin precisely when play is abandoned - not when you get your first job. Once you can narrow the stress problem down to just one cause, you have narrowed it down to one cure as well. Overwork doesn’t cause stress, but the playtime that is crowded out does. Believe me kids do work. They just have a better attitude about it. If you think they don’t, talk to some adults. Anyone who has made up his mind he is too adult to skip, jump and play deserves all the anguish and expense he incurs trying to manage stress. People are turning in droves to trendy methods of stress management such as smoking pot, psychotherapy, hypnotism, electric shock therapy, Gestalt therapy, Feldenkreis method and prozak soley to treat the complications caused by “growing past” playfulness. Play has four advantages over these. 1) It’s free. 2) It’s far more fun. 3) It’s more effective over-all. 4) You already know the technique. In fact I am persuaded every disease that is “incurable” should be tested for curability by play before we are so sure.

Here is another thing which I suspect the providers of the above therapies don’t want you to know. It is based on a collective misconception of how a person behaves when relaxed - what relaxation looks like. We better decide if relaxation is what we really want, because little playful children are the most relaxed people there are. So even if the therapies were to work and genuine relaxation was achieved, and we found ourselves acting like little kids, we would either recoil from it in embarrassment and stop it from working, or else we would let it work, and keep playing, and come to realize playing was all we really needed to do in the first place. So what’s with all these expensive therapies? AHA! So it is to safeguard the tradition of these therapies of old that play itself is discouraged. Thus continues the bewilderment of those who still think play and relaxation are two different things, who forbid themselves the first and wonder why they can’t achieve the second.

I am also familiar with the contention that we only use 10 percent of our brain, and I am amazed that we are so mystified by that. Now we are actually turning to metaphysics in search of that lost 90 percent. I believe that a decrease in the body-brain activity level as dramatic as the one that happens around age ten is quite sufficient to explain this. Why go into the depths of outer parapsychological blackness to find what we lost when we only have to retrace our steps?

To be playful means you must deal with the opposition of your own nervous system. The average adult has a whole nervous system that actually will not let him play. They are programmed by certain fears that we have been living by since we were ten. You have to play pretend, which is simply a game of “as if”. You can’t just tell your nervous system to let go. Don’t try telling yourself “It is okay to play.” You already know that. But your nerves don’t, and they won’t listen to you. Auto-suggestion trains only your brain, but only acting out trains your nervous system. And this means stepping out new, and playing as if the apparent consequences were not real. You will feel jitters and a loss of balance as you begin to move about outside dignity’s safe bounds. Just play, and let it be “uncomfortable” for now. Your nerves will begin to let go as you discover that your world does not collapse around you while you are on the swings. Besides, why is it so uncomfortable unless it feels exceedingly daring? Haven’t you always wanted to do daring things? Here is your chance to prove you mean it. The quickest way to loosen yourself is to follow that path of greatest terror.

When you have conquered the nerve barrier, the social barrier takes care of itself. You know now how to let your nerves cry themselves to sleep, now let other people do so. Because regardless of what you think you are seeing, their day is not ruined because you “forced” them to interrupt themselves to try to “save” you. Your slate is still clean. Even if you are becoming convinced of what people say to you, start thinking of your playing as an act of rebellion, for it is actually an act of defiance against respectable evil. Then playfulness will thrive on attempts by people to cure you of it. You will be able to develop your playfulness to celestial levels which are only possible with the help of people opposed to it (You can tack against the wind far faster than you can row during a total slick). It’s like the old Koine Greek saying, translated: If a bully keeps sneaking up behind you and pushing you, get on a swing.

Q & A

Don’t you think there will be a lowering of ones morale if we don’t set a high standard of dignity for ourselves and live up to it?

Trying to add to the principle commandments of true morality only shows how little we understand the ones that are there. The fear of what a playful escapade will do to your dignity is overblown. The simple secret is actually not an easy one at all: it is to think for yourself instead of listening to public consensus. That way you will find for yourself when and where play is appropriate. You will find out it is not Never or even Seldom, as you may have thought. It is an irony that those who have rediscovered play become the real masters at exhibiting dignified behavior. When you are at total peace with the fact that it is okay to play, you can sit, light up a cigar and act dignified without fear. Ordinarily dignity is a bitter, reluctant way of restraining the play instinct we think to be a totally inappropriate addition to adult life.

In what way is play different than the sex orgies, drinking parties, extramarital affairs, and pornography adults practice?

These result from a giving in to our fallen human nature, which as I pointed out above, play is not. I’m afraid that the strange inconsistancy of warning against wholesome play but strongly inciting this ugly bastardized play is the norm of the average adult. And that alone is enough to show that play and these other things are indeed two different beasts. This merely shows that our herd instinct is way stronger than our common sense. It also shows that there is really no way to call play a wrongful behavior and really mean it. In fact, there is something quite playful about getting away from these sins and liking it.

You didn’t mention some obvious adult legends who have playfulness in their back pocket. How about Dick Van Dyke, Ray Bolger, and Bob Denver?

Those in fact are wonderful illustrations of play. And needless to say, people line up to see them. But what you are seeing is TV, not reality. Through the miracle of camera and stage direction people can be shown behaving according to someone’s particular ideals, rather than as we actually do behave. Whether they have the same wackiness away from the whip of the director and bright lights is something I have yet to find out. As an experienced theatre person, I sincerely doubt it.

When do people actually grow past the play stage?

Nobody does. We reach a certain age, and become increasingly bashful about playing until we have developed a full phobia. We become comfortably set in our ways before we are old enough to exercise sound judgement. It is this dark point, located somewhere in early adolescence, that be must “grow past”.

You treat play as if it were a kind of panacea, kind of like a personal savior. If you have Jesus, wouldn’t this be idolatrous?

If you have Jesus, why still eat or make sure you get your 8 glasses of water? If you have Jesus, who cares about a healthy heart? If you have Jesus, why trifle with courtesy on the road? Why isn’t the very opposite of playfulness ever suspected as a possible idol, seeing the religiosity with which it is pushed? The Bible puts a big premium on being joyful. And the obvious association of playfulness with joy was well-known to the Bible writers, but the “rejoice” verses never show their concern on this point. You may have heard references to a Christian’s heart leaping for joy, but not in the Bible. There only the real action is described. The Bible specifically mentions someone who got too playful because of his rejoicing. He was rebuked, not by God, but by a woman whom God made sterile as a punishment!

If people can turn down such unspeakable delight as playing, why can’t they stay away from cigarettes, beer, drugs and illicit sex?

Because play is not an indulgence, but a discipline. It is the way of all flesh that as claims are made on our attention, we become too lazy to think that much about play. So it has become so rare that it is even intolerably “weird” to see someone do it. So we have begun to think it is an indulgence. But if it were, you would see the most self-indulgent social dropouts running, tumbling and playing leapfrog with each other like children. But they don’t. Is it because the play instinct was the one primitive urge they managed to bring under control? I don’t think so. The closest grownups come to true playfulness are in acting and sports. These are indeed disciplines.

Since you think of play as the perfect exercise, I’ll bet you don’t believe in weight training or spot flexibility exercises.

Those are indeed wonderful things to do. If you haven’t been playing a while, you will be weak and stiff in many places. The part needing the most recovery here would be the core muscles. Training exercises specifically directed to the parts needing reconditioning are the fastest way to complete the recovery from the deterioration caused by dignity, to the point where a playful lifestyle alone should maintain the aquired fitness. These training exercises could be thought of as the gymnastic equivalent of supplements.

So you would say that play is “enhanced exercise”.

No more than fresh juice from an orange tree would be enhanced Gatorade. I would say that play is exercise restored to its native state. The deviation is in exercise as we are seeing it: treadmills, ex-O-cycles, and health spas. Play is what exercise would still be if we didn’t try to engineer it and make it something our very natures shrink back from. As you can see dignity must go. It is bad for the arteries.

Frankly, we do seem to live in an age of new ideas. Start a “think for yourself” movement, and you should get many followers.

Of course there are new ideas. People change constantly. But the changes occur collectively! Would you believe that the first nose ring was an attempt to be different??? It is now a uniform! Every “new idea” becomes the new standard of the strictest conformity. People form herds to conserve their thinking energy. So a herd encouraging thinking would break up. Have you ever heard of Support Group Joiners Anonymous? I’m not emphasizing changes from one time to the next, but choices made at the individual level. Society should be seeking guidance from thinkers, not the other way around.

Nose rings show that even the most bizarre ideas will get a following. Start an adult play movement.

That has already happened. It’s called sports. If a herd is allowed to do the managing, it also gets to pick the activities for you. Tennis, shuffleboard, golf. Yawnnnn. The human play instinct is heavily shortchanged by that.

Doctors say our temperments are built-in. How could you expect to reprogram the nerves as you described?

Today’s doctors think this because they haven’t seen anyone defy their nerves, so they have no good reason to believe it is even possible. But this is only because the strengh of will necessary to do it was made obsolete by the New Age emphasis on letting go of deliberate effort and following your feelings, which is really a euphamism for mental laziness. It is the biggest contrast we have with the olden days, when defiance of nerves was common, and accounted for the heroism we hear about.

If playing is thought to be so destructive of self-respect, why do people encourage it in children?

Those who would think play destroyed self-respect would not want even children to play. They would teach kids to refrain from play as from swearing. All but the most heartless want children to play. This thing foisted upon grown-ups called dignity is not about any kind of self-respect. It is a posing game which develops slowly in early life, until it has become so pedantic that a playful attitude is impossible. If we were acting on self-respect at all, we’d have been keen enough to figure out that this was going on and drop out of the game at once.

I always thought that “in a multitude of councelors there is safety”, or that the greatest common good comes from thinking as a group.

I have also heard that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. Your idea works if what you mean is the exchange of ideas within a group, so that the ideas are pooled, and then each person picks the uses the ideas best for his individual needs. Ideas shared like that actually promote more liberty than a person figuring it out all by himself. But when the ideas have to be either accepted or rejected by the group as a whole, so that whatever is the prevailing thought is binding to the whole group, that is what paralyses. Everyone in the group can think of a better way, but cannot act on that in a collectivist society.

You said that dignity is the only virtue that exists in a vacuum. What does that mean?

I mean that virtues are an outward manifestation of the existence of absolute good. As such, all true virtues dovetail each other, being part of the same “organic whole”. Dignity seems to uniquely be the one with an opposite sign value. It is the only “virtue” that is exercised at the expense of other virtues rather than in concert with them. And conversly, perfecting the other virtues tends to compromise dignity. I could say that true virtues are as members of ones body, while dignity is a mosquito landing on that body.

How can something as mechanically casual as playing cure all the problems you listed? The activity is not that invasive or intense.

Maybe not, but if you follow the chain of cause and effect very meticulously, things look different. True you don’t do much when you play - it is a matter of how little you do when you are not playing. It is similar to the elusiveness of the mysterious “invisible hand” that makes the free market work. Play is so natural an act that you cannot really forbid its occurance without other functionalities of our bodies-mind continuum also being curtailed in unpredictable ways. The inhibition becomes increasingly fine-grained over time. Our mind has sanity-preserving defense mechanisms too subtle and innumerable to track, which we can unconsciously erect mental barriers against simply because something about these mechanisms may strike us as playful. Because of the highly organic interdependency of these mechanisms, the fallout works its way down to things we may not even think to have anything to do with playfulness, such as our metabolism, skintone, or memory skills.

The original leapfrog champs.
There’s Frog, and Toad, and
oh, I see Cricket is in here now.

Further reading

The Lost Art of Play by Mark Sisson

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