Using Recreation to Promote Harmony

“A house divided against itself cannot stand…”

This idea was expressed by Abraham Lincoln and several others throughout history.

Now, more than ever, this notion has relevance. Our modern culture thrives on conflict and separating ourselves from others. We define ourselves by our beliefs and often lash out against those who don’t feel the same. The internet and social media has made this easier than ever. How many angry or vile comments have you seen in the past week?  

Sadly, it takes away from the opportunity to truly understand and enjoy each other. After all, aren’t we all more than an opinion about a specific topic?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to preach…much. My goal for this article is to show you a vivid example about how recreation brings people together–even for just a few minutes.

But first, a little preaching…

Unless you avoid every form of media, you know we are getting close to another election. We are saturated with ads about how this person is awful because he believes this or supports that. How this person will save the middle class and his opponent will destroy us. Yet, after each election, most of us middle class people don’t see any real changes.

Issues with immigration, equality, and even the environment have people at each others’ throats. Sadly, in the midst of all this division, we fail to realize we are all just humans trying to enjoy our short time on this earth.   

Though the divisions are certainly evident on a macro level, you probably see similar scenarios playing out everyday in your community or workplace.

“I can’t believe the [insert your (least) favorite] department did this again…”

“If it wasn’t for….things would be so much better.”

“That [participant] is so difficult…Everything I try to…”

It could go on and on. A house divided. Did I mention earlier that we are humans trying to enjoy this short time on earth?

[Pause while I step off my soapbox.]

Recreation to Promote Harmony

As Recreation Therapists, we understand the power of meaningful experiences to transform lives. It’s an outlet, a source of joy, and a time where everything else weighing us down seems to lose its gravity.

fall festival recreation photoLet me give you an example. A week ago, I got off work early so I could take my family to a nearby pumpkin patch. It’s a typical fall festival in the suburbs of Chicago with rides, corn mazes, and other activities that just about anyone could enjoy. A great experience where us suburbanites can experience a little bit of the “country”.  

As the sun went down and the full moon lit a nearly cloudless sky, it seemed like everyone around me was having a good time with family, friends, and other loved ones.  

Since my son and his cousins are young, we spent a lot of time by the kiddie rides. As my niece rode a spinning teacup ride, I saw how a simple attraction can promote harmony.  

You’ve probably seen this ride before. People sit in a teacup-shaped compartment. In the middle is a circle you pull on. The harder you pull, the faster the teacup spins. As I stood there watching the teacups spin, I saw people from nearly all walks of life–white, black, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern. All ages too. There were a couple teacups with adults, but most had parents and young children.

During the ride, everybody seemed to be laughing and truly enjoying the experience. It didn’t matter who was in the cup next to them or what there were opinions were about “hot-button” topics. It were just people spinning, laughing, and enjoying two minutes or so of a recreation experience.

We are all spinning around this world together. We all want to laugh and be happy. Recreational activities may illustrate this idea best.

Implications for Recreation Therapy

Of course, Recreation Therapists see moments like this nearly every day. In fact, it is our job to make sure our participants embrace recreation.

At my current job, I work with mostly Chicago’s inner city youth in a drug rehab/mental health residential setting. Many of them are gang affiliated and entrenched in the juvenile criminal justice system. They had hard lives full of violence, trauma, and poverty. They often define themselves by their gangs or negative experiences they had to endure just to survive.

As I work with these adolescents, I discover they are more than the labels society puts on them. As they engage in recreation activities, they also suspend their beliefs about peers and the world around them.

image of a volleyballFor example, we currently have a volleyball team that plays against other residential facilities. Most of the guys have limited experience with volleyball and aren’t very good at it. At times, they may be reluctant to participate favoring other activities like basketball or lifting weights. Once they get immersed in a volleyball game, however, things change.

Instead of focusing on who is in what gang or embracing the “tough guy” persona, they have an experience where they have to work together to reach a common goal. You’d be surprised at the excitement and giddy laughter happening on the volleyball court as each team tries their best to keep the ball in play.

Recreation promotes harmony. It allowing these teens an opportunity to form bonds instead of galvanizing negative beliefs based on affiliations and negative beliefs.

Using the Power of Recreation to Promote Harmony

As Recreation Therapists, we have a unique opportunity to promote harmony with those so used to division. And we can make these recreational experiences teaching moments to transfer skills into their everyday lives. It doesn’t matter what setting or population, recreation brings people together.

If you see division among your participants, find an activity that can bring them together. It could be team building activities, learning a new skill, or simply enjoying an experience they never tried before.

This culture seems to thrive on division. We can change this mindset in the important work we do.

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Your comments and insights can help other recreation professionals thrive. Please take a few moments to share your thoughts.

What examples have you seen recreation bringing people together?

Do you have a favorite activity to promote harmony?

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