One could appreciate the complexity of the whole process, and spend time trying to analyze and synthesize what is going on; but the group moves through that complexity without getting bogged down in the analysis of the process, and finds the “profound simplicity” of their sharing, caring, and fun.
The concept of play, which lies at the heart of the Play-for-Peace (PFP) program, is very difficult to define. PFP programs involve adults and/or children coming together to share joyful activities — fun activities that can lead to group development, contribute to the resolution of community and cultural conflicts, and cultivate youthv leadership. Many of the activities of PFP groups can only be considered as “play” if the concept of play is defined in the broadest sense. PFP programs begin with simple interactional play (warm-up movements, “ice breakers,” name games, and fun), and return to similar activities throughout the course of group sessions. As groups develop, activities that involve trust, tolerance, cooperation, communication, and problem solving are introduced; and the more advanced group activities may include value explorations, creative play productions, community service projects, cross cultural experiences, and outdoor adventures. Still, the program is not called “Games-for-Peace,” or “Activities-for-Peace,” or “Experiences-for-Peace,” or “Adventures-for-Peace” — it is called “Play-for-Peace.” While the programs offered may involve games, interactional activities, learning experiences and personal growth adventures, the umbrella under which these programs are offered is play.
The underlying PFP philosophy would contend that simple sessions of joyful play can lay foundations for personal, community and cultural changes. That philosophy is a good example of what Will Schutz calls Profound Simplicity (1979). Schutz suggests that human wisdom and understanding evolves through three stages — simplicity, complexity, and “profound simplicity.” Early activities of a PFP group may be seen as simple play, but it soon becomes apparent that something else is happening for the group. All the dynamics of a group in process begin to appear, and as relationships build people begin to enjoy feelings of connectedness and belonging. People begin to share thoughts and feelings, to examine personal values, and to unlock their own personal energies. One could appreciate the complexity of the whole process, and spend time trying to analyze and synthesize what is going on; but the group moves through that complexity without getting bogged down in the analysis of the process, and finds the “profound simplicity” of their sharing, caring, and fun. We might say that the group moves beyond the phase of becoming, and simply is. At this stage, people are open, honest, tolerant and empathic; they simply enjoy each other, and care for each other. They get together for playful interaction, exploration of personal, group, and cultural values, and special group adventures or service projects. The members of a PFP group in process begin to understand (consciously or unconsciously) the profound simplicity of peaceful play and positive human interaction.
The activities facilitated by PFP leaders vary from program to program, according to the cultural setting, the nature of the group, and the orientation and goals of the program. PFP central provides training for the leaders which introduces them to a number of activities that may be useful in the developing programs about the world, but most PFP facilitators also draw from their own personal and professional experience. These activities have roots in alternative recreational, educational, and psychological practices, many of which unfolded during the last third of the 20th century. There were a number of loosely organized “movements” that advocated games, activities, and play practices which were creative alternatives to tradition. Although descriptions of these practices began to appear in books and on the internet, most play theorists and play practitioners learned about these play activities from experiential workshops.
By the time PFP programs began in the late 1990s, hundreds of play activities had worked their way into the mainstream of recreational and educational practice, and knowledge about who first created particular activities was very difficult to ascertain. Leaders began to utilize and modify these new ideas on play without knowing much about their source. However, since most of these activities do have roots in various “movements” in recreation and education, there is value in a brief historic overview to those movements. This may help us answer the question, “What is the ‘play’ in Play-for-Peace?”
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Thomas E. Smith, PhD, a.k.a. Old Raccoon, is founder and director of the Raccoon Institute, which began with offices in a tree-house in 1982. He studied with Native American elders in the late1950s, and with Carl Rogers at the University of Wisconsin. He has authored over a dozen books.