Philosophy and Psychology and Social Issues15 May 2015 06:35 pm

When putting together a list of the greatest inventions of humankind, the wheel is always near the top. The wheel is considered to be one the most versatile and important tools used in a host of settings. Along with the lever, the wheel is best known for its ability to assist us in getting work done. A fraction of the amount of work and effort is involved by wheeling things around as opposed to lifting and carrying. Almost every form of human transport whether it be used for work, commerce or battle involves machines utilizing the wheel. The wheel has deserved the title of being the most essential and basic tool in human labor and in our ability to do work, efficiently, safely and quickly.

While the wheel is the quintessential symbol of work, the ball is the most familiar and ubiquitous tool of play. We humans never tire of kicking, throwing, batting, dribbling, striking, hitting, paddling, spinning and rolling balls. Many games and sports involve contacting the ball directly while others hit the ball with an utensil specifically designed for the game or activity. While balls and spheres can be used for work as well as play, they are generally associated with play.

One could make a case for the ball being just as useful as the wheel, and just as prevalent in the lives of every person. Yet, the fact that the ball is equated with play as in “having a ball” or “take me out to the ball game”, and the wheel with work as in “have your shoulder to the wheel” makes the wheel seem more important. Our society has a tendency to glorify and value work while belittling play as being trite and superficial.

Yet, when one looks at the fight for survival in the animal kingdom play is just as important as work. Each predator and prey spends the bulk of their childhood learning their basic survival skill set through play. Human children too spend the bulk of their developmental years learning the basic skills of being human through play. Play dominates learning, growing and development in humans and animals. Play also is at the center of bonding and relationship building in all societies be they human or animal.

The typical ball is a sphere, a complete three-dimensional globe measuring 360 degrees. If you were to strip away a good portion of a ball leaving a narrow tread you would be left with a ball. In essence a wheel is just a mutilated ball with a relatively narrow tread. While a ball is able to go in any direction with complete ease, the wheel can only go backward and forward and needs specific steering mechanism to alter its course.

A wheel is linear and predictable and, therefore, ideal for work and repetitive tasks. A ball is omnidirectional and spontaneous and perfect for play and inventiveness. Our culture’s bias favoring work while viewing play as trivial or something one outgrows is what prevents the ball from being viewed as an important invention or human accomplishment. I for one think that work is overrated and that play is truly an essential ingredient in the quality of life and human fulfillment.

So stop being a fifth wheel, and start having a ball.

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