Time to play

Small snow pellets hit my face as soon as I opened the side door of the CYO Hall the Sunday before last. I had just climbed up the stairs after our crew of volunteers finished the cleanup following the afternoon soup kitchen.

Small snow pellets hit my face as soon as I opened the side door of the CYO Hall the Sunday before last. I had just climbed up the stairs after our crew of volunteers finished the cleanup following the afternoon soup kitchen. That snow squall kept up for only a couple of minutes but it would not be the last one to sweep through Whitehorse on a chilly Victoria Day weekend.

Now, a scant two weeks later, spring leaves have burst out. The first May Day tree flowers scent the air. The beach volleyball enthusiasts, barefoot and in shorts, are back in Rotary Peace Park. A Yukon summer now holds us in its sway. It is time to play.

Play has deep roots in our mammalian ancestry and a key role in our own specie’s evolution. In The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits, Gordon Burghardt offers a definition of play, which includes five elements. In the animal world play “is initiated when an animal is adequately fed, healthy and free from stress or intense competing systems. In other words the animal is in a ‘relaxed field.’”

This ties into Burghardt’s ideas that play “does not contribute to current survival” and is “done for its own sake.” While play may involve ordinary life behaviours like wrestling or chasing, these actions don’t have the same intent and are engaged in “playfully.” Burghardt also offers that these behaviours are “performed repeatedly in a similar, but not rigidly stereotyped, form.”

Any number of scholars give human play a central role in the development of our core cultural constructs from poetry to law. Robert Bellah, emeritus professor of sociology from the University of California-Berkeley, in his important work Religion in Human Evolution reaches back prior to our ancestor’s development of language. In these times many tens of thousands of years ago he sees mime, song and dance as a key part of our evolution flowing from play. “Once mimetic culture had evolved, (humans) could share the contents of other minds.” This, he argues, was an indispensable step forward “without which language would never have evolved.”

Mime moves to myth with language, myth to ritual in early egalitarian hunter-gather societies which predominated for much of our collective human history before the advent of agriculture some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Moral communities bound by “powerful norms” held these small-scale societies together. Religion then grew out of the increased need generated by the size and complexity of agricultural societies. Some argue that religion provided a key a priori basis for their formation.

Bellah, at the end of his landmark 600-page book, writes: “If there is one primary practical intent in a work like this that deals with the broadest sweep of biological and cultural evolution, it is that the hour is late: it is imperative that humans wake up to what is happening and take the necessarily dramatic steps that are so clearly needed but also at present so clearly ignored by the powers of this earth.”

Professor Bellah is, of course, referring to our ecological crises. He sees, though, that we now have the capacity “of understanding our deepest cultural differences, including our religious differences in a dramatically different way than most humans have ever done before.” If we can contend creatively with these differences we just might find a collective path towards a just, environmentally sustainable future for all humanity.

Apathy, indifference, blind addiction to unenlightened self-interest and powerful vested interests also handcuff contemporary society. Maybe rediscovering the role of play in our lives will help break through these barriers and realize, as G. K. Chesterton mused that it is “not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder” that the future we so desperately need is denied to us.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Eric Schroff, executive director with the Yukon Fish and Game Association, poses for a portrait on Feb. 20. Schroff says he is puzzled as to why the Yukon government is cutting back on funding for the association. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
YG cuts Yukon Fish and Game Association funding, tried to vet outgoing communications

Yukon Fish and Game Association says 25 per cent government funding cut will impact operations


Wyatt’s World for Nov. 27, 2020

Premier Sandy Silver during a live update on the COVID-19 situation at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 27. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Total Yukon COVID case count increased to 42 cases

Premier urges patience after national meeting on vaccine roll-out

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Most Read