Saturday, January 21, 2012

Role Playing

I recently came across this blog post by Eli Dourado, in which he quotes the book Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. I will quote the whole passage, because it is necessary to read it all, to understand the point it is making.
Seriousness is always related to roles, or abstractions. We are likely to be more serious with police officers when we find them uniformed and performing their mandated roles than when we find them in the process of changing into their uniforms. Seriousness always has to do with an established script, an ordering of affairs completed somewhere outside the range of our influence. We are playful when we engage others at the level of choice, when there is no telling in advance where our relationship with them will come out—when, in fact, no one has an outcome to be imposed on the relationship, apart from the decision to continue it.

To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence. It is, in fact, seriousness that closes itself to consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.
I thought of this passage the next day, as I was being inspected by security before I entered the office building: that sense of playing a role according to an unwritten script was suddenly very palpable. Isn't this the point of all ritual, whether in a courtroom or a church? To exclude the possibility of surprise?

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