Ways We Are Different

“Ways We Are Different” is a tool that can set up the discussion of diversity in groups or mainstream/margin.  This tool works for any size group from the smallest to the largest.  I love “Tape on the Forehead” for groups between 18 to 35, which goes much deeper into the dynamics of mainstream and margins.  “Ways We Are Different” doesn’t matter for size and also unfolds the multiple parts of our identity as persons.

Talk about how in every group there are ways we are different.  Ask for the group to identify one way we are different.  Gender often comes up first, so say, “Let’s have all the men move over here and the women move over there.”  “Another way we are different,” moving people around.  Sometimes there will be the mainstream and the other–non-mainstream.  Let the varieties be identified specifically.  If after a couple rounds the differences are all trivial (those with shoes, those with sandals), invite people to “peel the onion” about difference that might make an impact on people’s different experiences in this particular group.

As facilitator you want to watch for categories that could call out or humiliate or shame (even in unintended ways perhaps) a margin.  For example in sexual orientation comes up, you can ask the person who called it what their orientation is.  If they are mainstream (heterosexual), then say we’ll let the margins decide if they want that to be an issue on the table.  If the person is LGBTQ, then go ahead.  For married and single, you can let the division proceed, but then notice without dividing people that there are many ways to be single–single and happily so, single and hoping to be married, divorced, or widowed.  Protect the margins that don’t want to be “outed!”

Also, if some dynamic emerges (i.e., people snicker when the singles are separated from the married ones) just ask people to notice what happened.  You don’t need to comment then, but that can be great fodder or an example in the discussions to follow about mainstream and margin.

In the debrief you can notice that in every group we bring our complex and multi-part identities.  Some of our identities put us in the mainstream, some in the margin.  Our experience in that group will depend on how much of our mainstream or margin identities are touched by what is happening in the group and how intense that connection is.  One more complexity is that when we go from one group to another our identities don’t change, but our experience of mainstream and margin may change dramatically.

This TV ad from Denmark uses a version of this tool in a powerful way (“All That We Share”):