For Play for Peace, play is the host for a variety of meaningful behaviors. It is a means to transfer the concept of compassion across cultures and communities.
At Play for Peace, we spend our time teaching others about the positive power of play. Naturally, we are interested in the current trend in academics and the media to celebrate positive psychology. In this blog and several to come, we want to explore the psychology behind Play For Peace.
Let’s start with compassion—a building block of emotional life. This emotion describes our concern for the physical and mental circumstances of others. In a recent article in The Washington Post, psychologist Daniel Goleman argues that we are inherently wired for compassion and kindness. He cites one series of studies from the University of British Columbia by Kiley Hamlin: in one example, an infant is given the opportunity to show preference for either pro-social (kind) or anti-social (mean) behavior by watching a puppet show in which both behaviors are demonstrated. Staring signals preference in infants, and the child later directed attention towards the object representing positive behavior: indeed, a high percentage of infants demonstrated this taste for kindness (Goleman, 2015).
Goleman suggests that compassion is not only inherent, but that it can also be strengthened with practice. He has long embraced Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), an educational practice that emerged in the mid-1990s. SEL is a school program that enforces various kinds of emotional intelligence: self-awareness and empathy, for example. According to Goleman, supporters feel that these types of programs boost pro-social behaviors in schools, shifting children away from the self-interest that increases with age (2015).
Speaking more generally, evidence suggests that cultivating compassion is not only positive for those who receive it, but for those who give it as well. Referencing the research of Tania Singer, Goleman writes that compassion “increases the likelihood we will help someone in need. Bonus; compassion also activates brain circuits for pleasure and good feeling” (2015, para. 13). He goes on to recommend visualization techniques for cultivating compassion: for example, sending good thoughts to those we care about, and even to those we struggle with.
So how does Play For Peace foster compassion? It’s simple: we play. For us, play is the host for a variety of meaningful behaviors. It is a means to transfer the concept of compassion across cultures and communities. When we play, we embrace each other, be it through song or dance, speaking or laughing. Is compassion really innate? It certainly could be. We definitely believe that it is a crucial ingredient for peace. Whether we are trying to heal the traumas of tribal conflict in South Sudan, gang-activity in the U.S and Central America, or environmental disaster in Nepal, compassion is an essential and ever-present part of our mission.
Goleman, Daniel. (2015, June 23). “Wired for kindness: Science Shows We Prefer Compassion, and our Capacity Grows with Practice.” The Washington Post.