Decoding human behavior on the playground

What are the causes of human behavior?

I’ve spent a lot of time studying and reading about this topic, from multiple perspectives.

Why do I care?

Why don’t you care?

To understand human behavior means to understand your own behavior. It means you have a grounded rationale for action. It means you “make sense.”

The “modern” perspectives on human behavior (“nature,” “nurture,” “humanist,” “utilitarian,” “evo-bio,” etc.) are interpretations funneled through popular reasoning.

…at the beginning. There’s this thing called a human organism – a collection of organs (and other organisms) that developed over the course of 4.6 billion years (or maybe just since the Carboniferous revolution 356 mya).

The interaction of the elements of the earth’s crust, the earth itself (its magnetic iron core), the relationship with its moon, and energy from the sun, all created a thin film of activity on the surface of the earth.

The first activity was based on “anaerobic” metabolism. The activity of those animals created a bunch of oxygen, resulting in the Great Oxygenation Event 2.4 billion years ago, and the evolution of animals that used oxygen for motoring around and eating and/or incorporating other things.

Mammals popped up in the mix, and started wreaking all kinds of havoc – bearing live offspring (not eggs), adapting well to different habitats thanks to warm-bloodedness, fur, etc.

Behavior is mitigated by natural demands, shaped over eons, passed down through selected genetics and behavioral example. For the most part it’s a simple matter of supply and demand…basic competition for resources. Lots of resources means low competition. Other things start to happen with all that free time.

Happy accident of happy accidents, the apes came out of the trees. Being able to access two environments means more opportunity. As the head is positioned upright, the vocal chords change, allowing for a greater range of sounds. As the hands are freed they can do other things…even while walking around! And all of that new input means a bigger processor. More brains. Tools can be made for special uses.

What dominates behavior is the social unit. The tribe, the pack. The need for leadership and hierarchy. It’s partly genetically, and partly environmentally (pack- and nature-environment) determined. The strong ones in packs will tend to assert themselves, because they can. If left alone, not needing to assert themselves, they may not.

As the animal develops further, the ties that work well are strengthened. Social hierarchy achieves a safer outcome, especially against other tribes. It’s the old “in-group/out-group” behavior coming ’round again. Division of labor means more free time for all, since everyone doesn’t have to do everything all the time. The specialists get better and better at their skills and become Trades…it’s worth it to seek them out, to trade for their skill at the task.

As the group grows in size and scope, it needs more rules to maintain order. When it passes a certain size, it needs Laws. And there has to be a Reason to follow the laws. So they make up Morality, and Gods, and Demons, and Manners, and Fashion, and many other things.

Now the populace is easily controlled. But beneath the aerobic system likes a heart of stone, still pulled by the magnetic core of the earth. Beneath the veneer of civil morality (blamed on God, Nation, Fashion, Manners, or whatever) lies an animal seeking opportunity for resources.

You notice this most when things get tough…i.e., when resources get scarce (or are perceived as being scarce). The Civil Monsters become Uncivil (though still define their actions as Civil ones…they are, after all the Civil Monsters), and etc. down the line of exigencies (Fashion Monsters, God Monsters, etc.).

Blame blame blame, when at base, there’s only need to satisfy (perceived) demand for resources. Simple.

Now what works is to appeal to the perceived-need or -demand. It has become a trade unto itself…and its most of what anyone trades at all anymore.

I had to write this post after several visits to the playground with my 1 year old son. All of these things are exposed so much more readily there…they haven’t been trained to behave in accordance with different reasons. So one notices that there is no such thing as “sharing” in children under the age of 2. It’s really more a matter of interest of loss of interest (which is related to attentional focus, which is related to the perceived supply of “interesting things”).

The parents on the playground are even very honest about this – “We’re still working on the ‘sharing’ thing,” they’ll remark with a grin.

Yes, yes, you are…

But why?

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The “problem” of physical activity

I’ve talked about “problems” and problematizing before, so I won’t go into it here other than to say – we create all “problems” we encounter (literally and figuratively)…natural events are not “problems,” but situations. “Problems” are always man-made things.

So on to it!

The Barefoot Sensei taught me this – that movement and habit are formed in habitat.

That is, the two are inextricable. You are bound (literally, as in, tied, constrained) to reflect your habitat.

Even as good as we are at creating our own habitat, the human “World” (which is significantly different from the Earth), we still cannot do other than to live within it.

The “problem” of physical activity is that people generally don’t do it much anymore.

The solutions (in any age that faced this problem) have been typical of the age itself. In our day and age we are highly dialectical – we look at “systems” and “connections” on one side, and we look at “causes” and “statistics” on the other.

Both approaches come up with remarkably similar solutions that boil down to changing some factor(s) in order to get people to be more physically active.

That is, the idea that “change” needs to happen is the common denominator.

But “change” does not need to happen…or it would.

“Change,” in fact, is bound by the same rules that we humans are…since it is an act that we do.

So seeking or recommending “change” is no different (in the general philosophical/ontological approach, or the specific recommendation) from saying that there is a “problem.”

We are trapped in this dialectical ping-pong match, until we find the middle ground…the “mean.”

The the process of finding the “mean” we have to create “mean-ing.” And the only way to do that is to “make sense” of the issue.

Habitat forms specific types of movement. Go into a gym and attempt to do barefooted play-based activity. You will be asked to leave (and then forced to).

Now (and this next bit is entirely your choice, not a recommendation) go outdoors to a nice grassy field…might be a little lumpy…you know, or wet…it’s the outdoors, after all…and do 6 sets of 3 Clean & Jerks with a significant amount of weight.

If you’re in any sort of city, you might get stopped by some parks authority person. If you aren’t, you might suffer serious injury.

The activities aren’t appropriate for those habitats.

Another approach to habitat says that we can “change” habitat to make people become more physically active. This “rats in a maze” approach works sometimes to some extent.

The research on “the built environment” says – Put sidewalks where there were none, and more people walk places (supposedly…at least, more people are using the sidewalk you built).

But none of it address the “problem” of physical activity, or how “change” really happens.

In the method I study, we train with our “problems.” We literally take them into movement. It could be a word or a concept or a dialectical issue. We hold the issue in mind, speak it out loud, sing it, break it into pieces and sound out the parts, break it into parts and jumble them around, look for similar things and their relations to one another, etc. We do this in movement.


Because the seat of knowledge is the Earth, and there is only one path to it – the Heart. The Heart is accessed through movement and focus. Intention. So we focus in movement, and get to the heart of the matter, which is always grounded in earth.

So what is the problem of physical activity?

It is that no one has Heart. I guarantee you, if you can make the pill that gives people Heart that connects to the Earth, you will solve the physical activity “crisis.”

How can I prove that this is the case?

Look at the people who extrapolate on the problem. Most of them are trapped in dialectic. They have no heart. The don’t, themselves, move. It might be better to ask them what stops them…and go from there.

Then look at the people who seem to have no “problem”…regardless of their environment.

What is the common denominator?

They all share Heart. Their own Heart, to be sure, but they all have Heart. They put it into practice. They connect through it. Some of them are connected to Earth, but not all – that is a much more advanced path, and one that’s not very much discussed these days.

So, “problem” solved. Get on with it.

Brought to You By The Makers of Habitat
As far as habitat is concerned, what is it?

It is the Earth. It is the “matter.” It is the “matter,” for instance, in “What’s the matter?” Get down to the “matter” at hand…etc.

It is YOUR Earth. The one right under your feet, right now. Or under the the building that’s under your feet right now.

But it’s also those other things you can see hear smell and touch on that Earth under your feet. Look around you. That’s your habitat.

It’s the texture of your relationships. It’s the smell of fresh autumn breeze (even if that’s only from your Tide liquid laundry detergent).

It is the tangible essence of your own relationship with yourself. All of those things – your histories, your stories, your inner voice, the way you treat yourself.

Sociologists (Aristotle, Mauss, Elias, Bourdieu) have made up and/or borrowed the word “habitus” to try to make a special word for it. But habitat is a better word, because it’s one we already use.

So say it like you mean it. Own your habitat. Let it enter your Heart, and lead you to the Earth.

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