The National Institute for Play unlocks the human potential through play in all stages of life using science to discover all that play has to teach us about transforming our world.

Why Didn't the Wild Polar Bear eat the Husky?

On a late October day on the Canadian tundra next to a gray, cold, but unfrozen Hudson Bay near tiny Churchill, Manitoba, a pack of large Husky dogs, the pride of hunter-trapper Brian LaDoon were comfortably lounging on a fresh bed of snow, each tethered by a long chain. Norbert Rosing, a naturalist and photographer was setting up his equipment to capture the scene.

A wild polar bear is approaching the Husky who is signaling an invitation to play.

The Dog and the Polar Bear - An Amazing Tale

How does this Relate to Humans?

Anyone who has ever tossed a Frisbee to a beloved dog knows that playfulness crosses species lines. What does this mean? For humans and other animals, play is a universal training course and language of trust. The belief that one is safe with another being or in any situation is formed over time during regular play. Trust is the basis of intimacy, cooperation, creativity, successful work, and more.

Play practitioner Fred Donaldson has developed many of his successful healing techniques by first deciphering the play signals of animals through close observation, then using them to join in and play-bond with animals such as wolves and bears in the wild. He has adapted these techniques to his remarkable work with hostile gangs, warring political parties and other groups locked in lose-lose battles. He also works with disabled children to help them reach the freedom and utter joy found in a state of deep play. Play signals run deep in our heritage.

Kids have society's permission to play, and  most adults don't. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, most of us exchange play for work, and forget to play with the abandon and joy of childhood. Giving adults the “go ahead”  and techniques to resume adult forms of play offers multiple benefits. Being capable of generating, recognizing  and acting on the play signals of others establishes, or re-establishes trust, safety and adaptation to the unexpected or complex. Perhaps this truth has been buried in the usual win-lose contests that characterize most adult negotiations.


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