Popular Science Monthly/Volume 84/June 1914/The Psychology of Relaxation
|THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RELAXATION|
THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
THE gospel of relaxation has been eloquently preached to us by Professor James, Annie Payson Call and others. We have been told that we live under too much stress and tension, that we are too intense and carry too much expression in our faces, that we must relax, let go, unburden ourselves of many useless contractions.
There seems to be a good deal of truth in this. Some of us manage to escape neurasthenia, but few of us are free from fatigue, chronic or acute. We hear with amazement now and again some one say "I was never tired in my life." Surely under normal conditions we ought not to be so tired as we are, nor tired so often.
Under these circumstances a new interest has suddenly awakened in relaxation. The psychology of it is yet unwritten; the physiology of it is obscure; yet the need of it has become apparent. This need has lately been greatly emphasized by an outbreak of recreation crazes of which the dancing craze and the moving-picture craze are the most conspicuous. They have become so general and are so compelling that they even remind us of the epidemics of the middle ages. The almost obsessional character of these crazes may not be wholly explicable on psychological grounds, but it suggests the need of psychological inquiry into the nature of relaxation in itself and into the peculiar conditions of our times which issue, on the one hand, in the outburst of recreation crazes, and, on the other, in a rather wide-spread disposition to fatigue or even nervous disorders.
Meanwhile practical common sense, not waiting upon theory, has turned to discover means for relieving the excessive tension incident to our present habits of living. Some, as we have said, preach the gospel of relaxation, content to tell us that we are too intense. Others have established schools with practical and helpful rules and methods for relaxation and have brought comfort and relief to many. Again, a new and unique interest has suddenly arisen in play. Men and animals have always played—but now we have first become conscious of play and curious about it. We insist on play. If children do not play, we teach them to play.
Finally a score of movements, perhaps many score, have sprung into notice, whose purpose is to encourage or provide some form of relaxation. We recall the recreation movement; the physical-culture movement; the playground movement; the Boy Scouts; the Camp Fire girls; the ever increasing interest in athletics, not only in our colleges, but also in our high schools and grammar schools; the radical change in Young Men's Christian Associations from devotional to hygienic and athletic religion; the renaissance of the gymnasium and the Olympic games; the increased interest in outdoor life of all kinds; the renewed devotion to outdoor games, like tennis, golf, baseball and football; the rapid extension of the play motive into almost every branch of education; the new vacation schools and school excursions; finally the supervised playgrounds, supervised folk dancing, supervised swimming, wading, tramping, gardening, singing and story telling. Even with very young children the Montessori system seeks to relieve the tension of the old task methods by making the child; More than twenty-four hundred regularly supervised playgrounds and recreation centers were maintained last year in 342 cities in this country. A brand new profession has appeared, that of play leaders, employing 6,318 professional workers.
The legislatures of some states have passed laws requiring every city of a certain size to vote on the proposition of maintaining playgrounds. New York City expended more than $15,000,000 on playgrounds previous to 1908. The city paid $1,811,000 for one playground having about three acres. Chicago spent $11,000,000 on playgrounds and field houses in two years. Formerly the boy could play on the street, in the back alley, in the back yard; now the alley and back yard have disappeared, the street is crowded with automobiles and the few remaining open spaces are given over to the lawn mower and keep-ofi-the-grass signs, while more and more the school has encroached on the boy's precious period of growth, filling nine of the twelve months of the year and carrying the dreaded examination even into his evenings.
For reasons which will be shown presently boys must play. Take away the opportunity for legitimate play, and the play instinct, the instinct of rivalry, of adventure, of initiation, will manifest itself in antisocial ways. Hence the juvenile court and the reform school. "Better playgrounds without schools," says one writer, "than schools without playgrounds."
Our purpose, however, in this article is not to consider the practical and sociological aspects of play, important and interesting as they are, but rather its psychological aspects, the object being to determine if possible what play is and why it is necessary. We shall have in view not children's play merely, but play in its wider sense and especially the play and sport of adults.
Herbert Spencer was the first writer to propose a theory of play. Spencer's theory, which came perhaps from a suggestion of the poet Schiller, was that play is due to the overflow of energy, superabundant energy. It expends itself, therefore, in activities having no further end than the activities themselves, while work is due to the attainment of some en
In so far as the Spencer theory emphasizes the spontaneous character of play as compared with work, it is illuminating. And if by superabounding energy Spencer means nothing more than a condition of vital health of which play is the spontaneous expression, his theory is helpful and true. But the impression that one gets from this theory is that quiescence is considered to be the natural condition of the child and that when energy superabounds then he plays. Thus far the theory needs a radical revision. Still more, the Spencer theory makes no attempt to explain the forms of children's play and of adults' sport, nor their historical significance.
The next theory of play was that of Karl Groos, developed in his two books "The Play of Animals" and "The Play of Man." It is called the "practise and preparation theory" and maintains that play is an instinct whose purpose, during the long period of immaturity, is to perfect through play the activities afterward required in serious life. For instance, the girl jumping rope doesn't know why she is doing it except that it is fun. But really it is an instinct whose purpose is to develop certain essential muscles.
This theory is less illuminating than that of Spencer. All the activities of children are in a sense a preparation for life, but the form taken by children's play is not the form of their future activities, except in a comparatively few of the imitative plays. As we shall see presently, the Groos theory does not apply to the characteristic and most deeply fascinating plays of childhood and youth. Without denying the truth that play is a preparation for life, a wholly different principle will be found to determine the form which the plays take. Groos has more recently supplemented his views by a "Katharsis" theory of play already suggested by American psychologists.
A third theory of play has connected the plays of children with the serious pursuits of primitive man. A mass of facts showing this connection has been collected by Stanley Hall and his school—facts which no future writer on the theory of play can ignore. The manner of this connection and the reason for it have not been clearly shown. Sometimes it has been included under the so-called law of recapitulation, a theory to which critical reference will be made below. For the moment, however, it will be sufficient to mention some instances of this striking resemblance between the habits of our human ancestors and the plays of children, calling attention to the fact that the resemblances extend not only to the plays of children, but also to the sports of men.
Haddon and Tylor have studied the history of the kite and the top and of marbles and have shown their very ancient character and their connection with early religious and divinatory rites. The same may be said of casting lots, throwing dice, games of forfeits and games with common playing cards. The mental habits of our ancestors, as we know, survive in the counting out rhymes, in the charms and talismans and superstitions of children. One recalls the magic formula used by Tom Sawyer for driving away warts.
Barley corn, barley corn, injun meal shorts,
Spunkwater, spunkwater, swaller these warts
and then walk away quick eleven steps, with your eyes shut and then turn around three times and walk home without speaking to any one, because if you speak, the charm's busted.
The mental habits of the child seem like echoes from the remote past, recalling the life of the cave, the forest and the stream. The instinct exhibited in infancy, as well as in boyhood, to climb stairs, ladders, trees, lamp-posts, anything, reminds us of forest life; the hide-and-seek games which appeal so powerfully even to the youngest children recall the cave life of our ancestors, or at least some mode of existence in which concealment from enemies, whether human or animal, was the condition of survival; while the instinct of infants to gravitate toward the nearest pond or puddle, the wading, swimming, fishing, boating proclivities of every youngster, seem like a reminiscence of some time when our fathers lived near and by means of the water.
During a long period in the evolution of life among the higher animals and in the early history of man, the one all-important factor was speed, for upon it depended safety in flight from enemies and capture in pursuit. This ancient trait has persisted and survives to-day in a deep instinctive joy in speed, whether exhibited in running or coasting or skating or in the speed mania which lends such delight to motoring, flying, fast sailing and fast riding.
Again, the ancient life of pursuit and capture persists upon every playground in the familiar games of tag, blackman, pull-away, and a hundred others. Indeed, for the exhibition of this instinct, no organized game is necessary. Sudden playful pursuit and flight are seen wherever children are assembled. The ancient life of personal combat is mirrored in the plays of children in mimic fighting and wrestling. The passion of every boy for the bow and arrow, sling, sling-shot, gun or anything that will shoot, is merely the persistence of deep-rooted race habits, formed during ages of subsistence by these means.
There was a time when man lived in close relation with and dependence upon wild and domestic animals. This period is reflected in many forms in the child's life, in his animal books, his animal toys, his teddy bears, in his numerous animal plays. The former dependence of man upon the horse is shown in the instinct of the child of to-day to play horse, to ride a rocking-horse or a stick or anything. The child's first musical instruments, the rattle, the drum and the horn, were the first musical instruments of primitive man. These illustrations could be multiplied indefinitely. They show the limitations of the Groos theory of play, for none of the plays of this class have much to do in preparing the child for the life of to-day, or in giving him special practise for his future work. We ourselves are so much slaves of the past in our habits of thought that we do not easily realize how far from the actual life of the present day is this play-life of the child. The real world of to-day is that of the laboratory, the school, the library, the bank, the office, the shop, the street, the factory, the farm and the railroad. Notwithstanding the child's strong imitative bent, his world, as shown in his tales, his dreams and the plays he loves best, is that of the forest, the stream, the camp, the cave, the. hunting-ground and the battlefield.
Everything which has such a vital and absorbing interest for the boy has had at one time in our racial history an actual life and death interest for mankind. Take, for instance, the jackknife. How many knives has your boy had and lost and what rich joy there is in every new one! We see how the practise and preparation theory of play fails here. The knife has no significance in society now. It has degenerated to mere finger-nail purposes. But at one time it meant life in defence and food in offence. Your boy's supreme interest in the knife is a latent memory of those ancient days. Those who could use the knife and use it well, survived and transmitted this trait to their offspring. The same could be said of the sling, the bow and arrow, and of sports like boxing, fencing, fishing, etc.
Consider the fascination of fishing. This is not a practise and preparation for the real life of to-day, but a reverberation of racial activities. In a summer resort where the writer was a visitor the past summer, day after day the whole male population of the hotel resorted to the fishing grounds. They paid two dollars and a half a day for a guide, seven dollars a day for a motor-boat and a cent and a half apiece for worms. Surely a stranger uninitiated into our habits of thought would have been amazed to see these returning fishermen at night indifferently handing over their catch to the guide. It was the fishing they desired, not the fish, and yet great was their woe when one large fish was lost in the act of landing. It is estimated by the New York Times that on Sundays and holidays when the weather is fine, 25,000 people in New York City go fishing at a minimum cost of one dollar each, and of these no doubt more than 95 per cent, go for fun and not for the fish. At some stage in the history of human development fishing was without doubt a general means of subsistence. Those who could catch fish survived and handed down this instinct. Likewise the fascination of gathering wild nuts and berries is out of all proportion to the value of them when gathered. But nuts and berries were once of vital concern to our fathers.
It is in baseball and football, however, that we best see the historical significance of play. The daily paper is a good index of popular interest. Here we shall often find perhaps seven, perhaps twenty columns devoted to baseball, while no other single subject whether in politics, art, literature or science, aspires to two columns. How shall we explain the absorbing interest in baseball and football as well as in horse-racing and prize-fighting?
In baseball we have a game combining three of the most deep-seated racial instincts, the instinct to throw, to run and to strike. During untold periods of the life history of our race, survival has come to him who could throw the straightest, run the swiftest and strike the hardest. To throw something at something is almost as natural for a boy as to breathe. Throwing, batting, running are no longer of any service in this age of mind, but they were the conditions of survival in the distant past. Baseball reinstates those ancient attitudes and brings a thrill of cherished memories. Any one who has ever held a bat in hand and assumed the expectant attitude of the batter knows the peculiar thrill which is explained only by recalling that his distant ancestors in just that attitude beat down with a real club many an opposing foe, whether man or beast, and those who held clubs in this position and struck hard and quickly survived and transmitted this instinct. Dr. Gulick says:
The instinct to throw, as the same author shows, belongs to boys only, scarcely appearing in the case of girls. The awkward throw of girls, like the left arm throw of boys, is well-known. The plays of girls reveal their own set of instincts recalling the habits of primitive woman. "We are the descendants of those men who could throw and those women who loved children,"
Football excites still greater enthusiasm than baseball because it reinstates still more primitive forms of activity, for instance the face to face opposition of two hostile forces, the rude physical shock of the heavy opposing teams, the scrimmage-like, mêlée character of the collision, the tackling and dodging and the lively chases for goal, as for cover. The spectators at a great football game go wild and behave like children, shouting, gesticulating and throwing their hats into the air, because before them is enacted again the ancient, familiar scene.
Success in modern life does not depend upon swiftness of foot or swiftness of horse, yet our sports take the form of foot races and horse races. There was a time when swiftness of foot and swiftness of horse were vital. So in our sports these old scenes are reenacted. Few of us can read a vivid account of a horse race or chariot race without profound emotional disturbance, out of all proportion to the actual significance of these things in the life of to-day. In fact they have no significance whatever now. They belong to the past. So it is of hurdle jumping, hammer throwing, shot putting, trapeze performing, and all the events of the circus ring, the athletic track, the stadium or arena. They reenact ancient scenes and old forms of racial activity. The boy swinging on a trapeze or hanging by his toes from the limb of a tree is not practising the things he will have to do in later life, and this activity is of no value to him as "a practise and preparation for life," except so far as any physical activity contributes to his bodily development. A boy must be active, and activity is essential to his development, but the form of his activity is to a great extent determined anthropologically and his delight in it is directly proportional not to its future usefulness, but to its historic truthfulness.
The sports of the ancient Romans illustrate, just as ours do, this character of play. There is authority for the statement that 385,000 spectators were present in the Circus Maximus at one time. The spectacle that fascinated them was the age-old spectacle of man fighting with man in deadly combat, and man with beast, and beast with beast.
Such, then, are some of the facts illustrating the curious resemblance between the habits and pursuits of early man, on the one hand, and the plays of children and the sports of men, on the other. Is it possible to explain this resemblance and arrive at a satisfactory theory of play? An attempt has been made to show a kind of parallelism between the mental development of the child and the historical development of man and to include this parallelism under the so-called biological law of recapitulation. But this theory, sometimes called the recapitulation theory, encounters no less difficulties than the Spencer theory or the Groos theory. Even if the law of recapitulation were generally accepted by biologists, it would not explain the plays of children to refer them to it. There would still be only a resemblance—or at the most a parallelism. But more serious difficulties arise. This theory makes no attempt to explain the sports of adults and it is becoming increasingly evident that the plays of children and of men are to be explained on the same principle. If it could be shown that the child passes through the various stages of development that the race passed through, this would throw no light on the sports of men.
Nor again does this theory explain the delight which children take in their play nor does it make clear the distinction between work and play. Why does a boy become so quickly fatigued hoeing in the garden or raking leaves when his physical endurance is beyond belief when hunting, fishing or playing football? It is commonly assumed that in the former case the fatigue is fictitious, but this is not the case, as the results of forced child labor always show.
Finally this theory admits of no clear educational application. All the writers of this school assume that since the child's plays tend progressively to take the forms of the serious pursuits of his ancestors, therefore these tendencies should be encouraged. Every child, they say, must live out and live through these stages in order that he may enter into the next stage sound of body and mind. This may be true, but no satisfactory reason for it has been given. Why rather should not these survivals of savagery be discouraged and the boy's plays be modeled after his future manly duties?
Failing thus to find the recapitulation theory of play any more satisfactory than the other theories, but recognizing the full value of the facts from which it sprang, let us. see whether these facts are not susceptible of a somewhat different interpretation.
It is evident that progress in civilization has depended upon the development of certain peculiar forms of mental activity which were relatively undeveloped in primitive man. If it be true that these forms of mental activity are relatively undeveloped in the child and when developed in the adult are most susceptible to fatigue, we have at once the key to the whole problem of sport and play, explaining why the plays of children and the sports of men take the form of primitive human activities.
It is not necessary for our present purpose to attempt any exact description of those forms of mental activity which are newest in human evolution. Commonly they are exhibited as a constantly increasing power of inhibition and a constantly increasing capacity for sustained attention, and they depend no doubt upon that growing complexity of brain structure which makes possible and easy new forms of association. The individual becomes able therefore to hold steadily in view the image of a desired end, to inhibit the old and habitual responses which are no longer appropriate to that end, to analyze a given situation in thought so that the response may be to certain elements in the situation rather than to the situation as a whole, and thus to meet a given situation with a new response.
Even in the lower forms of animal life this tendency appears as the persistent striving of the organism toward an end, that end being usually some changed relation which shall subserve the life purposes of the individual. This striving has for its subjective correlate a state which we may characterize as tension, strain, stress or effort. It is this aspect of human behavior that constitutes work and distinguishes it from play. It is the power to hold oneself to a given task for the sake of a given end, to carry on an occupation even though it may have ceased to be interesting for the sake of some end to be gained other than the activity itself. This is work and it involves stress, strain, tension, effort, endeavor, concentration, application and inhibition, and is unconditionally the ground of progress. It is precisely the lack of this capacity for sustained and persevering effort that characterizes all uncivilized races.
Play is just the opposite and includes all activities in which the stress and strain are absent. Play is self-developing and supplies its own incentive. It is spontaneous and pleasant because of the sense of ease which accompanies it. Clearly play in this sense is something broader and more inclusive than those activities which we usually embrace under the term. It includes not merely children's plays and grown-ups' sports, not only hunting, fishing, boating, yachting, motoring, flying and all kinds of outing, not merely games and races and spectacles and tournaments and fairs and expositions, but also the theater and the opera, the enjoyment of music and painting and poetry, our daily paper and our magazines and our novels and our romances, and for that matter, many forms of so-called work in which the interest is self-developing, such, for instance, as gardening for pleasure. Relaxation or recreation would be perhaps more fitting terms to designate this large class of human activities.
All the evidence that we have points to the validity of the law that those peculiar forms of mental activity which have developed late in the evolution of man are most affected by fatigue—a law fully sustained by the study of psychasthenics and their incapacity for higher mental operations, as well as by the observation of people normally fatigued, while it is known that the disintegration of the nervous system in disease follows the reverse order of its development.
The application to the explanation of adult sport is evident. Those forms of mental activity which are developed late in the history of the race, and late in the life of the child, that tense and strenuous activity upon which modern progress depends, the power to hold ourselves by sustained attention and sustained effort down to hard and uninteresting tasks for the sake of some ultimate end, the concentration of the mental forces upon problems of science, philosophy and invention, and the inhibition of old and undesirable responses—all these bring quick and extreme fatigue and demand rest for the corresponding parts or centers of the brain. In sleep these higher mental processes enjoy almost complete suspension. But the exercise of these powers during the long hours of our waking day would result in speedy collapse. It is clear therefore that our daily activity must be made up quite largely of responses of the simpler type, which shall give exercise to our muscles and sense organs and invoke older and more elementary forms of psychosis, and at the same time allow the higher ones to rest. Such is relaxation in all its forms and of such consists almost wholly the life of the child. For the brain centers associated with the above-mentioned forms of mental activity are undeveloped in the child as they are in primitive man, so that we may say with considerable truth not that the child ought not to work, but that he can not work.
So we understand why adult sport resembles the activities of primitive man. The older, the more basal, the more primitive, so to speak, the brain centers used in our hours of relaxation, the more complete our rest and enjoyment. Just in proportion as the sport is primitive, so much greater is the sweet peace which it seems to bring to the troubled soul, simply because it involves more primitive brain tracts and affords greater release from the strenuous life. So while we find one hundred and fifty spectators at an inter-collegiate debate, we find a thousand at an automobile race, five thousand at a horse-race, twenty thousand at a great baseball game, fifty thousand at a great football game and 385,000 at a gladiatorial show. The nervous tracts which function in such activities as hunting and fishing and swimming and boating and camping and in football and baseball and golf and polo, in horse-racing and bull-fighting, are deep worn, pervious and easy. During countless centuries the nerve currents have flowed through these channels. Witnessing these rude contests, pictures of former ages, or taking part in these deep-seated, instinctive actions brings sweet rest and refreshment. "The racially old is seized by the individual with ease and joy."
The game of golf has a peculiar restorative power surpassing all medical or other therapeutic arts. We may be physically and mentally weary from a morning's work. Despite the strenuous physical exertion of an afternoon at golf, our fatigue is lessened, not increased. Fresh air does not explain it. It is a return to the primitive outdoor life. We stride over hill and through ravine; we stumble into ditches; we carry a club and strike viciously at the ball; we follow the ball with the eye and search for it in the grass as our forefathers searched for their arrows and missiles; we use our legs and our arms; we let the nerve currents course through the more ancient channels; we revel unconsciously in latent memories and old race habits and come back to our work rested, renewed and refreshed.
But you may say golf and bowling and baseball and prize-fighting require skill and close attention and tax mind as well as muscle. But this is not the point. Our primitive ancestors had skill. To see quickly and correlate nicely eye and hand or eye and foot was an early acquisition. It is not this that fatigues us in modern life. It is the everlasting, high-pressure grind. It is the holding ourselves down to hard working and hard thinking and long-sustained tasks. It is analysis, concentration, effort, dead lift of mind, the kind of psychosis that digs Panama canals, perfects automobiles and airships, discovers new laws of mind and matter in the laboratory, thinks out new fields for the investment of capital, scrutinizes countless court records for precedents in law which may clear our clients, holds the ship's captain on the bridge in times of peril, keeps the soldier at his post and the clerk at his desk through the long hours and the weary days. As the strenuous life increases in city and country, there is an increased demand for relaxation, whether in the form of baseball or football, horse-racing or gambling, or in the form of the automobile craze or the auction-bridge craze or the moving-picture craze or the tango-dancing craze. These are all methods of escape from the clutch of the modern strenuous life, exhibited in all countries, but most noticeably in America, for whatever it is that is driving the human race forward in the path of progress so rapidly and relentlessly, seems to have gripped the Anglo-Saxon people particularly hard.
Even these many forms of relaxation are not sufficient to relieve the overwrought brain centers, and so in ever-increasing amounts we have recourse to artificial means of relaxation through narcotics, such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Alcohol by its slight paralysis of the higher and later developed brain centers, accomplishes artificially what is effected naturally by play and sport, that is, it liberates the older, freer life of the emotions and the more primitive impulses.
Thus from our new point of view the difficulties in regard to children's play disappear. The reason why children play and why their plays take reversionary forms is now evident. The higher brain centers, those making work possible, are not developed. If a child does anything, he must play, i. e., his activity must take the form prescribed by the brain centers already developed, and these are the old racial tracts. He is equipped with a nervous mechanism adequate for old racial activities and for the most part with these only. The little girl hugging and nursing her doll is not the victim of an instinct whose purpose is to prepare her for later maternal duties. She is simply doing what her mother and her grandmothers have done since the foundation of the world. If they had not done so, she would never have been born.
The child does not play because of surplus energy, for under normal conditions all his energy is expended in play; the child is a playing animal. Nor does he play because of an instinctive need of practise and preparation for life's serious duties, for the form of the latter is constantly changing while the plays of children remain much the same from year to year and century to century. Nor finally does he play because it is necessary for his complete growth that he should pass through the several stages of racial history. He plays because he is a child and to the child's natural and active life we give the name play to distinguish it from the life of conscious self-direction, of strain and effort and inhibition which evolution has imposed upon the adult human being.
When we say that all of the child's activity takes the form of play, the statement should be regarded as a general one and as such it is true. As the term play is actually used there are certain minor classes of responses which are not included. The child's instinctive shrinking from a large furry animal is as much a part of his original nature as his tendency to run and jump and climb and wade. His responses in the taking of food, likewise, and in protecting himself by crying are original inherited responses. But to crying and sucking and shrinking from objects of fear we do not give the name play, because, being of the immediate life-serving kind, they bear a closer resemblance to those responses to which in later life we give the name work, and we reserve the term play for that larger and characteristic class of activities which are distinguished from the conscious self-directive life of the man. The play reactions of children therefore belong to their original nature. They are instinctive. Social heredity may account for the forms of organization of many of the plays of children as well as the sham character which they assume when compared with their originally serious form, but the elements of the great mass of the plays which are dearest to the hearts of children are truly instinctive.
Possibly the objection may be made that in this account of children's play, our attention has been directed too much to the plays of boys and that the plays of girls have been disregarded. An important distinction arises here to which in this present writing only passing reference can be made. The life of stress and effort and self-direction of which play is the antithesis is essentially masculine. Man represents the centrifugal motive; he stands for movement, change, variety, adaptation; for activity, tension and effort. Woman represents the centripetal motive; she stands for passivity, permanence, stability, repose, relaxation, rest. She has greater measure and harmony. She has therefore less need of the release afforded by primitive forms of activity. Girls, of course, play and their plays follow the same laws as those of boys, but yet in less marked degree, while adult sports are for the most part masculine sports.
Just at present what we call civilization is tending in the direction of the masculine motive—to variation, adaptation, change—to effort, stress and work. That it is producing anything remarkable, except in invention and the mechanic arts, is doubtful. The really great things of the world have been produced not with great effort, but with great ease. The magnificent productions of the age of Pericles in architecture, sculpture, painting and literature seem to have been more like the overflowing of a full vessel than like the laborious achievements of hard work. But the present age is the age of great effort, the age of work, and hence our growing demand for more relaxation and rest.
The educational application of this theory of play presents less difficulties than the older theories. It is not necessary that the child should live through and live out any series of savage stages. It is merely necessary that he should be kept active with the mental and physical equipment that he has, that work should not be too early imposed upon him and that his plays should be so organized and supervised that, while retaining the elementary form of his instinctive responses, they may be physically, morally and socially harmless. For instance, a boy, if he is a boy, must throw. It is just a question of whether he shall throw stones at a cat, at a street car, at little children or whether he shall throw a curved ball to the catcher. The latter is harmless, the former dangerous. Again, a boy's instinct of rivalry is very strong. He must do something daring, get ahead of some one, as those of his ancestors who survived did before him. If a proper playground is provided, all these things may be done without injury to society. Otherwise his instinct is expended in an effort "to steal on Casey's beat and get away with it." Again, at a certain age the dancing instinct is developed and the children must now be taught the graceful and healthful folk dances.
In our modern cities supervised play has become necessary for social order, for the reason that the old conditions of spontaneous, healthful play have been taken away. Says Luther Burbank quoted by Geo. E. Johnson:
As regards adults, the social applications of the theory are equally obvious. There must be large periods of relaxation from the high tension life of to-day. If they are not provided in the form of healthful and harmless sports, there will be irritability, abnormal fatigue and antisocial outbreaks. There will be tango-dancing crazes and auctionbridge crazes and there will be ever-increasing resort to the temporary harmonizing effect of alcohol, tobacco and coffee.
Even in the life of the family the harmonizing influence of games is seen. The friction sometimes exhibited among its members, in some cases taking the extreme form of nagging, wrangling and quarreling, is no doubt due in large part to the fatigue of the higher brain centers. In such cases it will often be found that participation in some simple game, particularly an outdoor game, such as golf, tennis or even quoits, will completely relieve the situation, bringing sympathy, harmony and peace. In society, the larger family, the same effect must follow upon the larger participation in healthful sports. It is sometimes a matter of surprise to us in periods of national prosperity when wages are good and work obtainable, that unrest increases, together with crime and insanity. It may be because the high tension with its consequent fatigue is not relieved. What is needed is less work and worry and more healthful relaxation. Worry is a good example of the high-tension life that is a part of our civilization. Worry is only an excessive form of prevision. It is well enough for preachers to tell us not to worry, but worry is precisely that form of behavior upon which civilization depends, namely, solicitude and care for the future. As a nation we are just beginning to worry, for instance, about the depletion of our forests and soil, and it is well that we are doing so. But sometimes we become excessively solicitous about the future, whether it be about the rent or the winter's supply of coal or our future health or the health and morality of our children, and this is what is usually spoken of as worry. It is very wearing, for the reason that it brings constant strain upon delicate and recently developed brain centers and makes relaxation imperative.
If we have correctly described the theory of play and the psychology of relaxation and their relations to the conditions of our modern life, it will be evident at once that the need will not be supplied merely by providing more playgrounds for children and more holidays and sports for grown-ups, vital as these are. The difficulty goes deeper and calls for emphasis of still other forms of relaxation than play and sport. There are many of these, such, for instance, as music, which is one of the best, and rhythmic dancing, which, being very ancient racially, is a form of relaxation of unsurpassed value. An ever-ready and convenient form of relaxation is the modern novel, in which the attention is sustained objectively as in the chase or the drama, but its value as relaxation is greatly less than in the old and social story telling. Society in all its forms is a healthful means of relaxation. All valuable games and sports are social and the mere mingling with our fellows lowers the mental stress and tension. Primitive man was wholly social and survived only in cooperative groups. The reversionary character of crowd behavior has been made well known to us.
Religion may be mentioned finally as a mode of relaxation of the highest value. Religion is a letting go the stress and tension of the individual and resigning oneself to an outside power, whether that power be God or the church. The function of religion in this aspect is that of a sustainer, and religion loses its usefulness wholly if the individual, as is often the case, feels it his duty to sustain his religion. His religion must sustain him. Clubs, societies, fraternities of all kinds, exercise a similar function. The great charm of all fraternal societies is that they relieve the stress, the burden, the tension of the individual and shift the responsibility upon the society as a whole. The society is back of him, to some extent will do his thinking for him, decide moral questions for him, relieve his worry.
Just as man has physically lifted himself from the earth, overcoming gravity, so mentally he has raised himself above the other animals by the fatiguing exertion of his higher mental powers. The first animals were marine animals. They floated in or upon the water without effort. Then came creeping land animals prone upon the ground but not so completely supported as in the water. Gradually the animal lifted himself upon four legs and at last, by infinite labor, erect upon two, and the tension is correspondingly great. The horse rests very comfortably upon his four legs if allowed to stand and needs to lie down scarcely an hour in the twenty-four. Man sustains himself with constant effort in an erect position and must sit much of the time on a chair and at night reverts to the original position of the worm, prone upon the bed. This illustrates the whole theory of relaxation. It is always some form of reversion to primitive attitudes or primitive psychoses and it brings rest and peace and harmony.
The rhythm of moral and social progress probably follows the same law. Periods of rapid progress are followed by periods of rest and relaxation. From time to time we are shocked by waves of vice and epidemics of immorality. We hear suddenly of conditions of astonishing laxity of morals in the small towns of our western states which are supposed to be models of propriety and we say that the world is going to the bad. But our judgment is too hasty. These things are stages really in progress. What we witness is a kind of moral relaxation, a relapse to more primitive conditions, as a result probably of progress that is too rapid, of tension too great. Something like moral fatigue takes place and a reaction follows.
Just at present we are hearing it said that our country has gone "amusement mad." Well, our manner of life has been very strenuous. The tension has been high. Something was bound to happen. Other forms of relaxation have failed us just when we needed them most—particularly art and religion. We are told that the art of ancient Greece was the product of the Greek genius. Perhaps it was the cause of it. Both art and religion entered intimately into the daily life of the Greeks. They have departed from ours.
- Comp. "The Psychology of Football," by present author, Amer. Jour. Psych., Vol. XIV., pp. 104-117. A few paragraphs from this article have been repeated in the present on
- Interest in Relation to Muscular Exercise, "by Luther Gulick, M.D., American Phys. Ed. Rev., Vol. VII., 2.
- Some manuscripts of the Notitia give the number as 485,000. Some modern critics believe that the actual seating capacity of the Circus was only about 200,000 at its greatest enlargement. Great crowds, however, witnessed the events from the surrounding hills and houses.
- Compare James's "Psychology," Vol. II., p. 429, note.