Using play methods to explore topics with people allows them to express thoughts and ideas that they took for granted, didn't know they had, or found difficult to put into words. Getting those ideas and thoughts out in the open benefits people in and of itself--after my workshops, I've had people tell me, "I didn't know I had that in me!" in a tone of wonderment. But it's what comes next that makes a difference: using this new information, working together with play, people can make sense of something that was confusing, or pull together for a common cause--whatever the next step is for their situation. What you can get out of all this play is collective wisdom. Here's an example.

In under 30 minutes, using a play method involving curated pictures, a group of about 30 people came up with a collective definition of support, based on their own experience. Groups of 4-6 sat at one of six tables, and each person individually chose a picture that signified support to them. After sharing with their group, each group worked together to make sense of their different views of support. Then each table reported out to the entire group what their table's definition of support was. With that information, (the rough notes are in the banner above), I sketched a mind map of the collective definitions.

Support is dynamic and changing, and it's a spiral. You start alone, just trying to take care of yourself with the everyday necessaities, then you move on to supporting and being supported by others--to relationships. You can be at more than one spot on this spiral, depending on who you're dealing with. The third spot is where you take care of someone else with no expectation of reciprocity, like a parent taking care of a child. Then, it's possible to support yourself at a level higher than necessities, realizing that your support is coming from all around you. There's also the possibility of crises, which require a different sort of support, a helicopter rescue. In the background of all of this is love, and a reminder to find/enjoy the beauty in your life.

There's a few points to make about this definition:

  • it's the product of a group of people who think carefully about support; it's not an abstraction to them but how they cope with illness. This is what people who know support say about support, and it's richer and more nuanced than what a dictionary says.
  • When the last table did their report, they gave a definition that moved everyone else to applaud spontaneously: the people who know recognized it as on-target.
  • This construct of support is now something that group has as a common point of reference, which, we hope, makes future discussions of support more meaningful to everyone.

This is the power of play: in 30 minutes, it enabled the collection of collective wisdom from nearly 30 people, who also had fun and really engaged with each other along the way.