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As technology becomes more efficient, the time and energy we need to spend working, both on a job and in providing our daily needs, decreases. Household tasks have been made much easier because of plumbing, gas heating, electric lighting, and numerous appliances. These have freed people (especially women and children) from the drudgery of much housework. Many women are turning to the rewards and fulfillment of professional employment. As job hours become more flexible and part-time work increases, people have the choice between earning more money or having more free time for other activities. Automation is replacing much mechanical work, and computers are rapidly taking over most bureaucratic work. Thus as a society we are able to accomplish more in less time, yielding not only more leisure time for more people but also the prosperity to enjoy those hours in creative activities.
Ultimately as Spirit we are divine creators; but while we are involved in the material world that has already been created, our activity of reshaping and playing with those products might be called recreation. Yet through this creative process that is limited by the laws and conditions that have been established we can learn to be responsible and wise. Human beings have a tremendous capacity for enjoyment, and there is no reason why our lives on Earth should not be happy. I believe that we learn better when we follow our personal lines of interest and motivation and do what we enjoy. Thus we exercise our freedom and become responsible for our own inclinations. The instinct to play is natural to young mammals and an important part of their training. Because of neoteny, human beings have greatly extended this learning phase of life. Through playing we learn many things in joyful ways. As Jesus once indicated, spiritual growth is dependent upon some childlike qualities. As we become liberated from materialism, our leisure time takes on more creative importance. We have already discussed art and communication which can be primary leisure activities. Let us now broaden this to include other forms of recreation and entertainment such as social activities, education, hobbies, outdoor activities, sports and games. The next chapter will discuss religious activities.
People often find relaxation and enjoyment in just being with other people, especially friends, in an informal atmosphere. Some people like to belong to a club or social organization that may have other purposes as well as purely social activities. Participation in these groups teaches us about cooperation and communication in addition to personal and group responsibilities. In our new age of democratic equality, everyone can be given a fair opportunity to participate, and elite societies that set themselves above other people are fading into past history. Certainly groups have some basis or common interest for joining together, but it need not be accompanied by attitudes of superiority and contempt toward others. Most social groups operate informally by consensus or democratic processes by electing officers and may vote on various issues. Responsibilities are accepted voluntarily, as members determine their own commitments to the group. Most social organizations are connected to some purpose or associated activity, perhaps professional, business, political, religious, educational, cultural, or recreational. However, most informal social activities as those between family and friends are unstructured except by ties of affection and convenience.
In addition to being preparation for work and living, education can also be enjoyed for its own sake. Since there are no limits to how much we can learn, we all can supplement our education regardless of how far we have gone in formal schooling. The less educated can find fulfillment in catching up on subjects they missed, and the well educated often acquire a taste for the pleasure of learning.
The continual expansion of our collective knowledge offers a great diversity of topics we can dabble in or study. College classes and adult education programs are growing and becoming more available to local communities. Books, recordings, computers, and educational television are proliferating. People can also form their own interest groups. Some people are even pursuing formal degrees late in life just for their own personal growth. Perhaps an old proverb applies here. “Learn as if you are going to live forever, and live as if you are going to die tomorrow.” As souls we do live forever, but that living is only real in the now.
We have already discussed some of the values of arts and crafts as products and means of communication. Both creating something ourselves and enjoying the work of others are major avenues of recreation and entertainment. Many people find the creative process extremely fulfilling even though they are not professionals in the sense of making a financial profit on their work. In fact several great artists, musicians, and writers were not commercially successful in their own lifetimes. Participating in arts or crafts as an avocation or hobby can remove the economic and psychological pressures of feeling one needs to produce something that will sell. “Amateurs” (the word derives from the Latin word for “love”) do things out of love. For many people who love to do or make things, the time, energy, and money put into the project brings primarily a personal reward of inner satisfaction.
Although being entertained is more passive than active, it can provide a balance to other activities and gives us rest, relaxation, and intellectual stimulation. We are free to choose what we want to participate in and absorb. As we become more enlightened, aware, and educated as a society, our choices will promote higher quality in the fields of art, communication, and entertainment.
Almost any activity can be a hobby if we enjoy doing if for its own sake. Usually a hobby is something that people choose for themselves with personal control over their own participation. Hobbies can be scientific, technological, artistic, literary, sporting, or even acquisitive, as in collecting things. We can engage in it at our leisure, in our own time and pace, and in precisely the way we as individuals want to. We may learn many new things that will delight us, and we are completely autonomous and responsible for our own projects. Thus children as well as adults can learn these skills in ways that nurture happiness, independence, initiative, organization, planning, economy, artistry, etc.
Since physical exercise is essential to good health and since modern work is requiring less physical labor than the past, more people are turning to athletics and outdoor activities for recreation, exercise, and pleasure. Through evolution our bodies have been complexly designed to be used; if we do not use specific muscles and organs, they will tend to atrophy, just as skills lessen without practice. Hunting required both exertion and skill. Gathering and agriculture depended on extensive labor. As civilization and its technology advanced and labor became divided and specialized, labor-saving devices have freed more human potential for mental work. Yet the instinct to explore, the sense of adventure, and the delight of using our physical capacities are still with us.
Although hunting still exists as a sport, I believe that it will fade away in the future as our love for other animal species increases. Actually hunting for needed food is natural and essentially different from hunting for a trophy. The latter can be easily sublimated into an aesthetic pursuit by replacing the weapon with a camera. Shooting, whether archery or with a gun, can be more precisely measured by using targets. Fishing is likely to remain as a commercial endeavor as well as a sport as long as we can maintain the ecological balance. The consciousness of fish is not as evolved as most mammals. As we care for the environment, many wildlife preserves can be maintained.
Most people love to get out and explore nature, whether through hiking, camping, swimming, or just a short walk. These opportunities allow us to experience a greater oneness with nature and all life and can be healing, renewing, and even inspirational. We can also sense what our ancestors and other creatures experienced. We can sharpen our skills of observation, perception, and adaptability.
For convenience, many people prefer to exercise with equipment indoors. Often this is combined with music, enhancing the sense of rhythm. Of course much athletic exercise has been organized into contests, sports, and games.
Play is a natural and spontaneous way for the young to learn and develop their capabilities. The conceptualization of a goal transforms undirected play into a game. Competition between two or more individuals or groups to achieve the goal turns a game into a contest. We can play around with a ball; but when a goal is established for the movement of the ball or of the players, then the play is organized around that objective into a game.
A contest for physical dominance may escalate from play to a serious fight if the competitors are not constrained by rules or codes of behavior. The ultimate conflict can be war. Although it certainly is not a game, wars do have game-like characteristics as a contest of physical forces. Even peoples at war have agreed upon some constraints and conventions. A critical test of a civilization is how well the people can resolve their differences without harming each other. Only the most brutal sports, such as boxing, achieve their goal by directly inflicting harm on the opponent. Although such sports will no doubt diminish in the future, in an age where wars are still common these expressions of aggression are still preferable to the brutality of killing.
Thus all games have rules to restrain aggression and maintain fairness in the contest so that each competitor may have an equal opportunity and the relevant skills may be used. Within the rules the players may employ strategies and tactics as well as their physical skills. In a team sport individuals may play different roles and cooperate together. Teamwork and team spirit greatly enhance the success of the group. Rules are monitored and enforced either by a referee who acts as a supreme judge or by mutual agreement of the players themselves in an informal game.
Some games are completely contests of skill; others depend merely on chance; and many games use a combination of chance and skill. The more that chance is a factor, the closer it is to gambling. The turn of the roulette wheel or the throw of the dice are purely gambling because any skill in determining the outcome would be considered cheating. Most card games combine the chance of receiving cards with the skill of playing them. The wagering of money is considered gambling even though there is skill in knowing what to bet on if the game is not pure chance.
Sports and games have a great appeal to human beings because they combine the adventure and excitement of not knowing what is going to happen with the exercise of various abilities. This excitement even draws spectators who, even though they are not exercising their own skills, are curious to see the events take place and appreciate watching the skillful players perform. Spectators often identify with certain players and teams and thus vicariously experience the thrill of victory and the disappointment of defeat as well as the beauty of the play. In this sense sports become an art as well as an entertainment. Nonetheless the watching of sports events tends to be rather passive as contrasted with participating actively by playing a game.
LIFE AS A WHOLE:
II. The Individual