Today i prototyped a new activity on ‘Stories of Dissent’. It’s a structured way to explore how ‘dissent’ can provide a stable structure of opposition, and to consider how we create, and hold, safe spaces to explore it. Systems that hold a lot of dissent can be stable, because they find stability in their opposition: exploring ways to engage across, or despite, our differences, may help those systems to move forwards.
The activity does this by using space as a proxy for difference: we create four spaces on the floor, each marked by a different tile, and within which, you can only do certain things.
In the first space, you can only share a story, a perspective, but nobody can disagree. If you feel the need to disagree, you must move to the second space.
In the second space, you can only share an opposed narrative; you cannot agree. If you feel the need to agree, you must move back to the first space.
The third space is somewhere you can choose to go, if you feel overheated, persecuted, frustrated, or unable to engage in spaces one, or two. You cannot speak in the third space.
The fourth space is about holding each other with safety: it’s about coherence, and respectful difference. If you see someone standing in the third space, you cannot leave them alone: someone must stand in the fourth space. You cannot talk in the fourth space.
For me, there are two purposes to this activity: the first is to use space and structure to encourage respectful debate, and the nature of the spaces allows us to visibly see the relative support for each position. Secondly, the spaces of ‘overheating’, and support, allow us to see how many voices are silent, silenced, disengaged, or frustrated.
As an activity, it is not perfect yet, but i hope to run it a few more times, and refine it from there.