Blind Shapes

Type of Activity: Exploring Inclusion and Connection

Props Needed: A bag filled with a variety of wooden shapes.

Set Up: Place enough of these shapes into the bag for the exact number of participants in your group.  Most shapes come in a variety of colors.  Be sure to have one shape that there is only one of (usually the star);  the other shapes need to have several pieces of each kind.

Process: Participants are invited to each take a piece, but not to look at it-nor can they show this piece to anyone else.  They are allowed to hold this piece, feel the shape, talk about it, describe it, and otherwise try to share information about their piece, but they cannot look at it.  They also cannot feel anyone else’s shape.

The facilitator provides the following minimal instruction to the group: “Find your people.”  Simply stated, everyone is looking to find the other group members that are holding a piece of similar to theirs.

After a few minutes, the facilitator calls out “One more minute’ and encourages everyone to find their people.  At the end of this minute, everyone freezes, and the facilitator allows them to look at their piece.

Some groups form easily, as their shapes are easy to describe.  Others are more difficult to sort out.  Some groups may have other shapes mixed in (that’s OK).  And then there is the case of our one and only ‘star’ in the group.  Here is a person with star qualities, but unfortunately, there is only one star in the bag.

The facilitator now begins the processing component of this activity, and asks, ‘Where are my house shapes?  Where are my cats? ‘  (See the debrief section for more.)

Next, the facilitator can ask the ‘star’ participant to talk about their experience of trying to fit into other groups, or attempting to find their place in the group.

Finally, the facilitator can ask all the red team members to hold up their piece of wood.  “Aren’t these some of ‘your people’?”  Group members reply “yes, but we couldn’t see their color.”  This creates another teachable moment - “aren’t there people right now in your organization, that are part of ‘your people,’ but you just don’t know that yet.”  What can you do to find them?  A discussion related to  inclusion, invitation and connection is suitable at this time, followed by the facilitator’s command, “now you have one more minute... find your people... and make sure no one is left behind!”

At this point the activity has probably reached a natural conclusion, so now time for the icing on the cake - the story that makes this activity even more valuable.  At this point, the facilitator reads the 3 minute long story ‘The Mermaid’ from Robert Fulghrum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

‘The Mermaid’ by Robert Fulghum

“Giants, Wizards and Dwarfs was the game to play.  Being left in charge of about eighty children seven to ten years old, while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the church social hall and explained the game.  It’s a large-scale version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision making.  But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.

Organizing a roomful of wired-up grade schoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity—all this is no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were ready to go.

The excitement of the chase had reached a critical mass.  I yelled out: ‘You have to decide now which you are—a GIANT, a WIZARD, or a DWARF!’

While the groups huddled in a frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pants leg.  A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice, ‘Where do the Mermaids stand?’

Where do the mermaids stand?  A long pause.  A very long pause.  ‘Where do the mermaids stand?’  says I.

‘Yes, you see, I am a Mermaid.’

‘There are no such things as Mermaids.’

‘Oh, yes, I am one!’

She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf.  She knew her category.  Mermaid.  And was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where a loser would stand.  She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things.  Without giving up dignity or identity.  She took it for granted that there was a place for Mermaids and that I would know just where.

Will, where DO the Mermaids stand?  All the ‘Mermaids’ —all those who are different, who do not fit the norm and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes?

Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation, or a world on it.

What was my answer at the moment?  Every once in a while I say the right thing.  ‘The Mermaid stands right here by the King of the Sea!’  says I.  (Yes, right here by the King’s Fool, I thought to myself.)‘

So we stood there hand in hand, reviewing the troops of Wizards and Giants and Dwarfs as they roiled by in wild disarray.

It is not true, by the way, that mermaids do not exist.  I know at least one personally.  I have held her hand.”

Debriefing Topics:

  • Identify where each shape is:  “Where are my houses?  Where are my cats?  Where are my trees?  Etc.
  • Where is my lone star?   What was it like trying to fit in?  How did others treat you?  Did you join another group just so you could fit in?
  • Ask the participants  to look at the color of their wood shape.  ‘If you have a red piece, please hold it up.’   then ask, ‘Now aren’t these some of your people, too but you just didn’t know it?  What do you have in common with others in this group but  you just don’t know it yet?’
  • What is a common thread between all of the pieces?  They are all made of wood.  We have something in common with each person in this group.
  • Now to relate this to bullying...What does it feel like to not fit in?  Was it easy to ‘push’ people away because they didn’t look like you?
  • Are people that do not fit in well more likely to become a target of bullying?
  • What can you do if you see someone being bullied?
  • Can you think outside the box and come up with a common characteristic, such as, “All of the pieces are made of wood?”  Would this simple thought process avoid the action and reaction of a bully?

For more resources see: Setting the Conflict Compass,  A Teachable Moment, Blind Shapes

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