The Good Life – In Praise of Unstructured Play

Perhaps it is just a general crankiness related to advancing years, but I am feeling more and more out of touch with the spirit of the times these days. It seems to me as though society has made some kind of profound shift away from the values and beliefs that I have grown up with, and this change seems to have happened almost overnight.

Let me give you an example. Amongst the circle of friends and acquaintances I have known for many years, it was a sort of given that outdoor activities were a significant part of most of our lives. For years, there was never any trouble organizing a pickup soccer game in the summer, or finding a group of people to play touch football, toss around a Frisbee, or just get outside for a picnic.

There was not really an agenda to any of this. It wasn’t competitive. It wasn’t related to any health concern (although reduced risk of heart attack and enhanced vitality and energy were always recognized as a beneficial side effect).

Above all, it wasn’t done in order to shape up for bikini and swimsuit season. It seems to me that my friends and I got outside in a loose, unstructured kind of way as much as we could just because, well, we enjoyed it so much.

Now, it seems to me that everyone is so busy all the time. Ask about getting together for a game of baseball or bocce at the park and everyone starts flipping through their agendas or consulting their electronic time-management oracles. Want to organize a picnic down at the river or a long bike trip in the country on a Saturday afternoon? Apparently you had better start getting the logistics nailed down a good 60 days in advance, because everyone is too caught up in a whirlwind of activities to do anything even remotely spontaneous.

Certainly, it is not that the people I know are any less active. Goodness knows, between Pilates, yoga, kids? soccer, hockey, floor hockey, basketball camp, outdoors club, yada, yada, yada, there is no shortage of activity going on. And good for the participants, I say. It all sure beats sitting around watching the telly or carrying on virtual relationships over Facebook, etc.

I can’t help but feel, though, that we seem to have lost our sense that the best kinds of fun are the simple, spontaneous events that are pulled together in the span of a few minutes on a weekend afternoon. I can’t help but feel that we would be a little better off if we, as a society, just backed off a little bit from our agenda-driven exercise schedules and allowed ourselves a bit more time for unstructured spontaneity.

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