Restoring the Playground with Gwen Gordon

by Scott Barry Kaufman, April 25, 2019

“Play is life force itself… when we can sense and amplify its most life-affirming, transformative impulses, it will point us directly to the Playground.”

Today it’s great pleasure to have Gwen Gordon on the podcast. Gordon began her career building Muppets for Sesame Street. Since leaving Sesame Street, Gwen developed Awakened Play, a play-based approach to making behavior change irresistible and transformation delightful. She has applied her insights in organizations ranging from San Quentin Prison to the MIT Media Lab and from IDEO to PepsiCo. Along the way, Gwen has collected a master’s degree in philosophy and an Emmy award in children’s programming. Her latest book is The Wonderful W, which is the first picture book for grownups.

In this episode we discuss:

  • What is play?
  • How everything is really “fear of the void”
  • The doorway to the sense of wholeness
  • Gwen’s experience working at Sesame Street
  • Correcting the record about how Gwen created the Rockheads on Sesame Street
  • Scott’s crush on Miss Piggy
  • The shadow side to play
  • How the playground is our true habitat
  • The incredible importance of adult play
  • The inherent paradoxes of play
  • How play relates to attachment theory
  • How play is a healthy stepping stone to healthy childhood development


One Response to “Restoring the Playground with Gwen Gordon”

  1. M. Makuye says:

    We can agree that we are obligate social animals, yet not involved in social activities during 100% of our time.
    With some brain lateralization, we understand that producing and interpreting language involvesattention to symbolizing narrative – narrative explaining relationships and social interactions, including the imaging of strongly arousing occurrences, life, death, threats, opportunities.
    I think of Kahneman’s systems 1 and 2 thinking, in which we socially function in response to such arousal, unquestioning of those narratives during social arousal.

    “Fearing” the “void” would seem, then, to be fearing that our situational narrative is threatened and possibly incorrect.
    Those who have learned to retain that childhood capacity of being open to the unfamiliar, new, information, appear to feel somewhat less threat to long-held narrative constructs.
    The theory of cognitive dissonance and how we often avoid it, is well-supported. This paradigm covers the concept of “fear of the void” which comes from the long awareness of our incomplete social dependence of the Buddhist philosophy – about 2500 years old, I believe.
    It is unlikely that human individuals will maintain or develop freedom from fear of voids when they are encased completely within densely social interaction. We are, after all, also involved in the real, actual world, outside the quest for social status and stereotypical relationships.
    Other animals with which we are familiar (other individuals) also interact both for their needs (food, safe local environments, and so on) as well as social affiliation and exploration, even across species.
    The habituation that removes fear of the unknown, can also involve play – the satisfying neurohormonal responses to learning and practicing physical and mental acuities.

    But our problem is that rather crazily serious signaling of, and response to, threat – in particular, as far as many are concerned, threat to social status and opportunities.
    the signaling appears to b e involved with peer and primary role modeling, sometimes reinforced with threat signaling and even actual physical and social damage.

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