What contributes to this loss of perspective is the disappearance of playfulness, an attribute that originally evolved with mammals and which is an ingredient in both intimacy and the ability to maintain distance. You can, after all, play with your pet cat, horse, or dog, but it is absolutely impossible to develop a playful relationship with a reptile, whether it is your pet salamander, no matter how cute, or your pet turtle, snake, or alligator. They are deadly serious (that is, purposive) creatures. Chronically anxious families (including institutions and whole societies) tend to mimic the reptilian response: Lacking the capacity to be playful, their perspective is narrow. Lacking perspective, their repertoire of responses is thin. Neither apology nor forgiveness is within their ken. When they try to work things out, their meetings wind up as brain-stem storming sessions. Indeed, in any family or organization, seriousness is so commonly an attribute of the most anxious (read “difficult”) members that they can quite appropriately be considered to be functioning out of a reptilian regression. Broadening the perspective, the relationship between anxiety and seriousness is so predictable that the absence of playfulness in any institution is almost always a clue to the degree of its emotional regression. -Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
Tim and I got in a fight recently, and seemingly out of nowhere we were spinning, spiraling, at odds, and having trouble finding our way back to each other. In the midst of our tunnel of chaos, everything seemed so serious! We were cool and prickly towards one another like reptiles. Once we reconciled and found our way back to connection with each other, we were warm again, kind, and soft. When we are in a good place together, we relate like puppies, playful, creative and fun. But when we disconnect, we relate like reptiles, icy and aloof.
In his book A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman writes this regarding anxious systems, be it an anxious family system, church staff, company, or an entire political system:
These words resonate with me! Are you experiencing stuck-ness in your home? In a friendship? In your business? With your kids? The #1 thing standing in the way of you seeing a way through your situation today may be your serious posture, and the key ingredient to get you through may just be a little playfulness. Remember the importance of playfulness and its amazing ability to change the mood, open up perspective, and nurture possibilities that are otherwise buried under the weight of seriousness and purpose. What a gift!
Playfulness stems from joy. Sometimes joy is hard to find. Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” During tough times, the core of your joy, if you have joy at all, is going to be in your relationship with God. There are no limits to God’s joy or His strength; we have full access to these gifts. In recalling God’s availability and sufficiency, we regain our playfulness and our ability to become the non-anxious presence that is needed to find a way through.