Funny how I’d forgotten what the easiest way to a child’s heart is: the age-old act of tickling. As we were leaving Amani on yet another gloriously sun-drenched Friday afternoon, little Hamisa and the beautifully expressive Mwanaisha (previously featured here) were playing on the slide in the yard, climbing up, sliding down and asking me to join. Tired and in a bit of a hurry I was eager to get a laugh out of these two and decided to give them a little tickle instead. And boy, does tickling work like pure, unadulterated magic. As I launched into a tickle the girls giggled, squirmed, begged me to stop and then shouted ‘Tena!’ (again!). Bellies, necks and feet all received their fair share and I even managed to snap the above picture in the slightly frenzied process…
A great book on neuroscience that I’m currently reading gives an interesting evolutionary twist to the story: As the author, Dr. Ramachandran argues, tickling may have evolved as an early playful rehearsal for adult humor; a pre-form of humor, if you will. Much like an adult in danger, the child’s instinct when faced with a menacing monster – the adult about to tickle them – is to react with fear and flee, but when the giant turns out to be gentle instead, the expectation of danger is released in the form of explosive laughter. Perhaps tickling works universally because it taps into our deep-seated wish to be loved through touch and our instinctive reaction to a potentially dangerous-turned pleasant surprise: the monster is friendly after all!
Thank you, Hamisa and Mwanaisha, for reminding me once again what it means to laugh for no reason, enjoy the moment for no reason and just be: Joyous, pure and at peace.