Just playing at being different

‘[W]here a connoisseur sees the differences, a novice sees the similarities.  Where a connoisseur can discern subtle shades of distinction based on nuance asymmetries, a novice lacks the necessary filters to canvas, to organise, to sift an assortment in a meaningful way.  Where a connoisseur can navigate a category with effortless intuition, a novice will struggle to find beginning, middle, or end.’*
(Youngme Moon)

The guide is one who has gone before.  Many times under varying conditions.  They have walked the path in foul weather and fine.  They’ve had to face the asymmetry of challenge whether ready or not.  Donald Miller does not underestimate the value of the hero when he writes about the guide:

‘The strongest character in the story isn’t the hero, it’s the guide.  Yoda.’**

We cannot be Yoda.  Only Yoda can be Yoda.  We can, though, be a guide who looks like us – a good guide knows this.  Ursula Le Guin found herself writing her novels as a man:

‘Do I know how to write in my own skin, my own clothes?  Well no, I didn’t know how.  It took me a while to learn.  And it was other women who taught me.’^

What Youngme Moon describes in today’s opening quote is described by Richard Sennett in Erin O’Connor’s story of learning how to blow a Barolo goblet.  In this context, she is an apprentice glass-blower with someone mentoring and coaching her – apprentice is another term we might use for the hero.  What O’Connor is learning is the coordination of hand, eye and brain, being totally absorbed in what is being produced:

‘We are now absorbed in something, no longer self-aware, even of our bodily self.  We have become the thing on which we are working.’^^

The journey from apprentice to mentor takes tens of thousands of hours of sheer hard graft that puts off so many others and leaves us to be different:

‘When you commit you deepen presence.  Though your choice narrows the range of possibilities now open to you, it increases the intensity of chosen possibilities.

[…]

You are the only one who can decide this and take up the lifetime of work it demands.’*^

The true guide is never bored – knowing they will never be complete, that anything could happen ahead, that they can initiate many things they must be alert to:

‘We are alert rather than bored because we have developed the skill of anticipation.’^^

Play is important for learning.  It is our willingness to be wrong over and over and over again but always willing to the possibility of being right the next time.  Play makes it possible to move beyond what we know.

Writing around a hundred years ago, Johan Huizinga noted how humans take game playing further than other species.  We are not the only game playing species, we are the species which knows it is playing:

‘Animals play, so they must be more than merely mechanical things.  We play and know that we play, so we must be more than merely rational beings, for play is irrational.’^*

To open our minds, hearts and wills requires that we play.

Answering the questions Who am I? and What is my contribution? will involve necessary playfulness.  Our play is our way to being different to one another – and something quite exceptional and remarkable takes place.

‘But extraordinary contribution is rare.  It’s when we surprise the system, and perhaps ourselves, by showing up with something unexpected, far beyond the common standard. […] Extraordinary contribution changes not just the recipient, but the giver as well.’⁺

By the way, it’s your turn to play.

(*From Youngme Moon’s Different.)
(**From Donald Miller’s Scary Close.)
(^From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)
(^^From Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)
(*^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^*From Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens.)
(⁺From Seth Godin’s blog: What is extraordinary contribution worth?)

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