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Clearing the energy threshold to be playful


Philosopher Nick Riggle explores the ethics of goofing around in his book On Being Awesome. He identifies the idea of “being awesome” with being skilled at creating situations for others to express their individuality.

When we break out of our norm-governed roles by expressing ourselves, we can create what I call a social opening. A social opening occurs when an opportunity arises to step outside of or creatively expand upon these roles — in particular, when there is a chance to recognize each other’s individuality beyond whatever generic traits and skills are required to simply enact the social role or adhere to the social norms.

I really like the concept of a social opening. When we riff with friends and have a good time, so often it’s because we’ve built instincts for this group of people on how to create openings for them. Fun with friends is a property of the interaction; not a one-sided performance, but a cycle of generosity as we set each other up for jokes or encourage creative acts.

Because creating social openings depends so much on exquisite timing (especially in a group), it’s a deep challenge to capture the energy of a team lunch on a video call. Though I quite like working from home in general, that’s one thing I miss.

Having small kids around is its own opportunity for social openings, but kids are not yet skilled at creating social openings. They don’t know social norms as well, and they go too far afield of the adjacent possible in their bids. Social openings on easy mode, from a skilled partner, need very little energy to find a good “Yes, and…”. To be an awesome dad, I have to set aside my craving to express my own individuality and take the leap alongside my kids.

That leaves me in need of my own outlet to recharge. Now more than ever, hobbies are desperately important. The world looks bleak, but I want these kids to grow up with creative energy and optimism anyway. Pick up the guitar. Ride the bike. Shoot some hoops. Make a collage.

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