Play

“The play's the thing,” Hamlet said as he went to work to find out who killed his father, “wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

Play and work. Work and play.

If you Google “play,” you get 1.93 billion hits. If you Google “work,” you get 2.3 billion. Work usually beats play.

If you play at work, you could get fired from your job.

If you work at play, you could turn out to be Eric Clapton.

Play, as defined by Wikipedia, is enjoyment by humans, enjoyment by animals or a structured literary form or theater, a la Mr. Shakespeare.

Work, on the other hand, has all kinds of definitions, be it house work, the measure of work done by human beings, manual labor (or physical work done by people), wage labor (in which a worker sells his or her labor and an employer buys it) or the effort applied to produce a deliverable result or accomplish a task. There is mechanical work, thermodynamics; in Christian theology, a good work is an act of charity.

Work is work and play is play, but these days, it is hard to tell the difference.

Hollywood seems to go out of its way to blur the difference. Yes, it is hard work to be a celebrity. But come on, people! You are getting to be ridiculous.

Playing golf is play unless you get paid for it. But even if you get paid to play golf, it has to be better than digging a ditch.

Playing in a band is play, but there is a difference between guys playing in a local garage band as a ruse to get away from their wives and, say, Coldplay. They work at their play, and that is why they sell so many albums (well, not albums per se, but digital downloads, these days).

A buddy of mine works in the entertainment software industry. They make video games. It may seem to be trivial, but nothing is trivial about the billions of dollars the business creates each year.

Eating can be work or play. If you don’t have any money, it can be hard work just to put food on the table. But if you have plenty of money, going to a fine restaurant is not work at all. It is a joy, which meets the definition of play as referenced above.

Being an accountant seems to me to be straight work. You can get creative with accounting, but that becomes hard work when you end up in prison.

The well-worn advice to college seniors is to do what you love and love what you do. Most people love to play. But you don’t usually get paid to screw around (unless, of course, you are in the porn industry, but I digress).

But many people do get paid a lot of money to play. People make billions playing the stock market. It is only work when the market goes south (unless, of course, you are a short-seller).

Poker-playing is one of the most popular spectator sports on cable television. Who knew that watching a bunch of card sharks eat each other up could be so entertaining?

Politicians get in a lot of trouble when they get caught playing around on their wives, with their finances, with the facts, on junkets. In the big scheme of things, politicians don’t get paid much to make the laws that we all have to live under, but the American people think that all they do is play around with taxpayer money.

Cable television, of course, makes a big game of political game, so to speak. They have to compete with ESPN, the network dedicated to game-playing. People want to watch games, because they want to play, not work. Those who watch the news networks look at politics the way that racecar fans watch NASCAR. Sure, they want to see everything work well, but the ratings go up when something big crashes.

Almost a century ago, Babe Ruth got a heap of criticism for getting paid more than the president, who at the time was Herbert Hoover. But as the Babe explained, in 1929, he had a better year.

The military is about the only institution that doesn’t spend a lot of time playing around, despite the fact that they often play war games. But the war games are not for play. They are a deadly serious way to prepare for the work of protecting this nation.

I played golf yesterday with a wounded warrior who already did two tours of duty in Iraq and was getting ready to depart for Afghanistan in the coming months. His golf game was inspiring, not because he played particularly well (he didn’t), but because he was there at all. He was wounded trying to protect his comrades as a mortar came in. He learned a valuable lesson as he flew through the air. He makes a better human than he does a bird. He can’t fly. His knee was completely screwed up as a result, but because of the good doctors at Fort Meade, he has healed enough to play golf with the likes of me.

It is because of the hard work of guys like the wounded soldier/golfer, who would prefer to remain anonymous, that more Americans can pursue their dreams, which tend to fall more on the play side of the equation. It is easy to play when so many are working hard to keep us safe from the bad guys.