Playing With Fire

I was having a conversation today when someone suggested that my work in diversity and inclusion was a little like playing with fire.

I’ve considered a lot of things but I’m not sure that I felt we were playing with fire in fact often just the opposite. You see part of the reason that play is a catalyst to having discussions about diversity, change, difference, perception, etc. is that it brings us back to a space where we can explore our discomfort with comfort.

The origin of this fear originally kept us alive, the distinction between what was the same or different allowed us to decide, choose, or connect with something that was for our safety, for our convenience, or for our dinner.

Many times, we are not even acutely aware of the thing that we turn away from because we instinctually have a fear of things that are different.

Knowing how to “react” in situations that are unknown, unsettling, or uncommon for us only comes with experience.

Until we have multiple life experiences with these differences, we do not even address that they are there. Until we are playing with fire, we have no idea what to do with it.

You see for me fire is different depending on our experience with it and around it.

Children are often taught to “stay away from”, avoid fire, etc., and it is interesting to me that there are many children today who have no experience whatsoever with fire, except to fear it… some don’t even know why, only that they should.

At some point in our lives, we do discover that playing with fire is a very dangerous and often painful encounter. But we have learned that fire can also comfort us and engage us with nature in many complex ways. But, until you have an experience with fire and you choose that you like to be around it, build it, nurture it, etc. you would never know anything other than it is

The same can be said for people; without context it is difficult to engage, connect, ask, try, falter, fail, flop, and try again. Ever had an awkward conversation with someone new? What if we never had first conversations?

Connection is practice and experience, have you ever tried to light wet paper? You know it takes patience and often more than one match.

It is the same with people, when we return to play we have an opportunity to have authentic engagement about the things that make our sensory systems ignite messages to run, avoid, escape, turn away and look to the ground. When faced with unfamiliar or new we have to fight the urge to run. Not every spark is a wildfire….

But until we know whether not we are playing with fire we must first have that first encounter, explore how we feel about it, and move forward.

Try tomorrow, light a match…


Brandi Heather
Brandi Heather
I have always played outside the lines. With a Master’s degree in Physical Education and Inclusive Curriculum development. I've taught 1000’s students at colleges, universities, community organizations, schools, and businesses the value of inclusion, most often by helping them find first the value in themselves. I was often considered the quirky college professor who taught the "soft subjects" alongside the serious academics. I was known for showing up to a class with carts full of “unusual tools” including playdough and plaster to teach kinesiology, communication, and human service principles. I thrived in spaces where people didn’t quite fit because often, I also did not quite fit. My goal is not to make every space and person the same but to demonstrate the strength of difference. I am a Therapeutic Play Specialist, I speak locally and internationally on the power of play for growing from diversity to inclusion and igniting innovation and engagement in all levels of education, business, and community programming. In 2018 I left the world of “college professor” to start a journey into entrepreneurship. I have fallen down many times to get back up and do what I love. In the past 10 years, I have founded award-winning not-for-profit and for-profit businesses grounded in diversity and inclusion, mental health, and play. I am now my own company, Brandi Heather Consulting, helping to build organizations where people want to be by unleashing the extraordinary potential of people. I unpack the aversion to playing and unstructured play by utilizing the science of play to change the way we take care of ourselves, connect with others, and solve some of the greatest social challenges of our time. I wrote Return To Play, Rebuilding Resilience, Risk and Reconnection in 2021 to share my lived experience, passion, and dedication to getting the world back “in play".

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