THE OPPOSITE OF X IS NOT Y, IT IS Q. (Thinktool #17)

Ben Taylor said, elsewhere on this blog: ” I like your Johann Hari connection (I had tweeted this article from other sources with the pull quote

“the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety; it’s human connection.”

(You can find the Hari item, and Ben’s comment by entering ‘Hari’ in the search box over there on the top right. There should be only two results, unless I have mentione JH before and forgotten)

There’s a famous quote from Brian Sutton-Smith:

“the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression”

I riffed on that, earlier this year, like this:

“the opposite of quirk isn’t cool, it’s oppression”.

(The concept of quirk in playwork comes from Bob Hughes and Penny Wilson.)

It seems to me that this construction is enormously valuable (when it works!).


Let’s call it the ‘opposite isn’t’ thing. Its fun to do. and bloody difficult.

It seems to me that it depends on a genuine, hard-won insight. It functions like a parable, a zen teaching story, a Mullah Nazrudin story, an Irish joke, a Jewish joke or one of my dad’s stupid stories about a bloke training a monkey. Or a haiku. The thing about haiku is that there are two kinds: the haiku* and the desk haiku. The desk haiku is the haiku you get when, like a columnist with copy to file and a deadline, you sit down and go “Hmm, what shall I write a haiku about”, whereas the haiku* is the kind you get when you witness something fleeting in the world, like a kingfisher, or a fox, or a baby flipping from a cry to a laugh, or a rainbow, or four big lads after closing time crossing the road with great intent shouting “Oi mate, mate, you dropped your wallet.”

This ‘opposite-isn’t’ is a fun thing to play with. Have a go. Here’s mine: “The opposite of employment isn’t unemployment, it’s purposelessness.” Hmm. I’ll gove that 4/10. (I didn’t mean to type Gove, the previous Tory minister of Education, and yet…) It is clearly a desk ‘opposite-isn’t’, not a ‘genuine, hard-won insight’, so only four Marx out of ten.

Over to you, readers.

FOOTNOTE: Haiku*. The temptation is to say ‘original haiku’ or ‘real haiku’ or ‘authentic haiku’. Twas always thus. A distinction emerges, and it changes. It undergoes memetic warping. If we are comfortable with that we might say ‘old-school’. If we aren’t we might say ‘New Labour’ or ‘so-called New Wave’. Stuff happens. you can’t fight it. What you can do is make the distinction, when a distinction is called for.

SECOND FOOTNOTE: just heard this one on Radio 4: “The opposite of truth isn’t lies, it’s euphemism”

KIND THINKER OUT IN THE WORLD: an elegy for Perry Else



Kind thinker, out in

the world, away 

from the white towers; 

down by the riv’r.

Forthright, flexible and firm — 

the three frees.

Living, in the realm

of the possible:

not ‘they should’, only

‘well, maybe we can…’ 

Else we forget, the

value of play

and the value of

his playful life.

Arthur Battram

10:26 AM, Thursday, June 12, 2014, revised 2:02 PM  Friday, September 5, 2014 , and again so the scansion is better Tuesday, September 9, 2014, 2:04 PM.

A fitting obituary is here:

REGENERATING THE PUBLIC REALM: Blenders, babysitters and burglars! – connecting neighbours in unexpected ways – Playing Out

“For my street – and the others who have shared their experiences – new and rich connections have grown from sharing time and fun on the street during playing out sessions. And they have changed the way I feel about living here for the better.”

We know more about regenerating a rainforest or a prairie than we do about regenerating the public realm.

We really need to get out more.

And we really need to study more.

PlayingOut, is one neccesary, but—of course—of itself, insufficient condition for this regeneration of  the public realm to take place. Pun placed intentionally!

Read and follow their excellent bloggery.

via Blenders, babysitters and burglars! – connecting neighbours in unexpected ways – Playing Out.

“Work is about a daily search for meaning as well as daily bread…”

As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.

(I still respect him, but I’m no longer a fan of Apple’s products. Not since MacOS 10.4 in 2005. Just so you know I’m not a blinkered fanboy.)

Now, here’s one reason why I rate Jobs, which you can file under: “Insanely Great!” his most famous catchphrase.

When the Mac was produced in 1984, he insisted, at significant extra cost, in having the names of all the engineers who designed it engraved INSIDE the case, where almost nobody would ever see those names. I was lucky enough to see them, because I once watched an engineer remove the casing. (Oh yes, circuit boards can be beautiful, why are most of them ugly?)

You can also file under: respect for the dignity of the work of other human beings.

Which leads me on to my next couple of stories.

Studs Terkel has been described as a historian and a sociologist but he prefers to call himself a “guerrilla journalist with a tape recorder.” He created controversy we’re told when Tony Blair resigned and he asked: “Why was he such a house-boy for Bush?” Studs Terkel died in his Chicago home on 31st October, 2008 at the age of ninety-six. He asked that his epitaph should be: “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”

He said:

“When you become part of something, in some way you count. It could be a march; it could be a rally, even a brief one. You’re part of something, and you suddenly realize you count. To count is very important.”

Working (1974), is his account of people’s working lives. Terkel wrote:

“Work is about

a daily search for meaning

as well as daily bread,

for recognition

as well as cash,

for astonishment

rather than torpor,

in short for a sort of life,

rather than a


sort of dying.”

This is an edited excerpt from the interview that opens the book:

(Mike LeFevre was thirty-seven in 1972). He works in a steel mill. On occasion, his wife Carol works as a waitress in a neighborhood restaurant; otherwise, she is at home, caring for their two small children, a girl and a boy...

“You don’t see where nothing goes. I got chewed out by my foreman once. He said, “Mike, you’re a good worker but you have a bad attitude.” My attitude is that I don’t get excited about my job. I do my work but I don’t say whoopee-doo.
The day I get excited about my job is the day I go to a head shrinker. How are you gonna get excited about pullin’ steel? How are you gonna get excited when you’re tired and want to sit down? It’s not just the work. Somebody built the pyramids. Somebody’s going to build something. Pyramids, Empire State Building-these things just don’t happen. There’s hard work behind it. I would like to see a building, say, the Empire State, I would like to see on one side of it a foot-wide strip from top to bottom with the name of every bricklayer, the name of every electrician, with all the names. So when a guy walked by, he could take his son and say, “See, that’s me over there on the forty-fifth floor. I put the steel beam in.” Picasso can point to a painting. What can I point to? A writer can point to a book. Everybody should have something to point to.”


taken from this PDF which I found on the net,

so you can too: StudyGuide-Working.pdf

A Study Guide Of WORKING

From the Book by Studs Terkel

Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso

Original Production Directed By Stephen Schwartz


IN THE WINGS Arts-In-Education Program



Saturday, May 8, 2009 @ 2:00 p.m.