Love, Conflict, and Play

Dr. Keith Witt Defenses, How can I feel happy and fulfilled in my life?, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Perspectives, Psychology, Video, Witt & Wisdom: Live with Dr. Keith 3 Comments

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ntegral often focuses on the Upper Left quadrant, the domain of consciousness itself, which ultimately runs the show in determining our life course from moment to moment. But our lives are enacted relationally in the Lower Left quadrant at all times.

How we navigate our relationships determines our success or failure in all social contexts. Humans are intensely and inherently social. If you look at the LL from zone 4 (a 3rd-person view of our intersubjective relationships), looking at structures of our shared interior intersubjective fields, you notice that in relationship we are mostly either playing or we are fighting.

Playing is cooperative activity with an agreed upon set of rules. Sometimes play is pure fun, and sometimes winning/losing dynamics are painful, but any engaged activity under an external set of rules is play.

Fighting is dominating the other, with little or no regard for a shared set of rules—red might-makes-right dynamics.

In this discussion, Keith and Corey talk about how all play is an abstracted version of fighting, and how we can always draw upon our evolutionary capacity to transmute our basic animal drives into art, goodness, and greater understanding.

Transcript Excerpt

Corey: If seems like virtually if not all play is actually an abstracted version of violence and fighting, which is something that continues to blow me away. And it’s not just a human trait; this is actually something we see in the animal kingdom. Right? Lizards, for example, don’t really play. There’s not a lot of playfulness when you know, all you have is a reptilian brain. And then birds evolve. You know, we have two cockatiels…

Keith: They play!

Corey: They do! They play, but it’s a different kind of play. It’s not the same kind of play that you see from cats or dogs. For example, it’s a play that’s more oriented towards social connections, because birds are sort of like when reptiles started forming more social bonds in a certain kind of way. And then you have like a cat, and how a cat trains its young to hunt. And it does so using play — which is a direct analog to like me rough-housing with my daughter, right? Teaching her sort of where boundaries are, that it’s okay to be aggressive as long as you’re sort of staying within these boundaries. And you know, it’s a great way to actually teach someone what a boundary actually looks like!

Keith: It’s necessary. Developmentally, rough and tumble play with kids — if it’s with a strong, dominant adult who doesn’t let it get out of hand — those kids have higher test scores, better social skills, and more affect regulation later on in life. It does something to their nervous system, and they’ve done it with rats where they won’t let them do rough and tumble play with each other when they’re young, and what do they become? They become ADD rats.

Corey: It’s absolutely fascinating. Again, this is all fitting into this frame that you have, which I love, which is “turning these basic drives into art.” And it’s fascinating to me that we don’t only see this within the human species, we actually see this all throughout the spectrum of the animal kingdom itself. And it I think shows how central managing conflict is, and how we’ve created all of these evolutionary strategies to manage conflict. We take a conflict, something that could become violent, and we actually sort of transcend and include it in a new field of playfulness, which is a brilliant evolutionary strategy.

Music by Justin Miles and Stuart Davis

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Dr. Keith Witt

About Keith Witt

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.