Building and Dwelling with Heidegger and LEGO® Toys

Ellen Miller

From their beginning in 1932, LEGO® toys have expressed and were designed with an ethos grounded in simplicity, care, fun, and sustainability. The name LEGO—an abbreviation of the Danish “leg godt,” meaning play well—includes an ethical and social mandate. This ethos can also be found in contemporary LEGO organizations such as LEGO Serious Play®, a community-based business model where participants use LEGO materials for professional development. This organization—the only one of its kind officially approved by the LEGO Group—extends LEGO values into the adult business world. Interestingly, the LEGO Group and LEGO Serious Play articulate an explicit systemization, yet they also endorse openness, flexibility, and creativity. The LEGO corporation’s emphasis on openness parallels the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s (1889-1976) emphasis on openness, releasement, and working creatively within the structures and limitations of history and culture.

Emmet as Existentialist: No More Mr. Conformist

Even though Heidegger’s writings are not easily categorized, his themes resonate with those explored by existentialists: authenticity, the connectedness between self and world, the importance of our first- person experiences, and the limitations of traditional philosophy.1

For Heidegger, each person must define what it means to be human by choosing how to act. We must make our lives meaningful since

LEGO® and Philosophy: Constructing Reality Brick By Brick, First Edition. Edited by Roy T. Cook and Sondra Bacharach.

© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

life does not come with pre-packaged meanings. When Vitruvius tells Emmet, “Don’t worry about what others are doing. You must embrace what is special about you,” his pronouncement parallels this existentialist theme. We must make our lives awesome through our efforts and actions. Emmet’s journey alongside the Master Builders—those able to build without instructions—shows some of the difficulties involved in stepping outside the norms of one’s society.

The existentialist self is in the world with others but must learn to make choices that are not determined by group values alone. For Heidegger, we are often too comfortably absorbed in the values and ideas that stem from those around us.2 We find ourselves in a world filled with others where we learn what “One does not do and what one must do.” For example, in North American societies, “One does not throw LEGO bricks at the dinner table.” This simply is not the way “one acts.”

In The LEGO Movie, the awesomeness of teamwork makes it comfortable and easy to conform and not stand out as unique. The movie’s opening sequence offers us a laundry list of items one must and must not do, from making breakfast to getting one’s $37.00 cup of coffee. Initially, Emmet loves being lost in this sea of conformity: “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!” Hearing, listening, and being open to others are part of how we understand the world. Yet, following these voices can limit our ability to speak with an authentic voice. Emmet’s journey exemplifies the existentialist journey toward such authenticity. And, importantly, the movie ends with the revelation that creativity is available to everyone, not just one special individual.

 
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