One of the (gulp) many books I’ve wished I’d written myself is a little book of thought experiments called Astonish Yourself! by Roger-Pol Droit, whose playful activities expand our perception beyond the habitual.
In a period in which many of us are all too familiar with the four walls around us and maybe could use a little jostling of our perceptions, I thought you might enjoy playing, too, with a new thought experiment I sprang on the participants during a half-day PD workshop I just conducted for the National Association of Social Workers in Wisconsin. Just go right here if you want to see the whole thing, or begin below.
For this activity, you’ll need a pen and an index card or a stiff piece of paper.
First, put into a sentence the single spiritual belief you hold that for you is the most unshakeable.
Take an index card or stiff piece of paper, and fold it in half to make a table tent. write that belief above the fold, and then set up the table tent right in front of you. That belief you wrote should then appear upside down.
Next, read out loud, one at a time, a few of the beliefs listed here, each of which may be held by someone. Read one, glance at your table tent, close your eyes, and just notice
- Does entertaining that belief cause your throat to tighten?
- Does the ticker tape of your mind flash with, “Well, that’s just absurd!”?
- Or do you have a moment of curiosity, something like, “I wonder whether you can believe that and also what I believe at the same time”?
- Or perhaps of dizzying confusion?
Do this process with as many of the beliefs on the list as you like.
Finally, notice any patterns in the reactions you had. Did you discover types of beliefs that are particularly threatening or, alternatively, affirming, or even exciting?
In the NASW workshop, we took a fourth, and, for the time being, final, step. We spent a few minutes looking at the beliefs we hold about our beliefs. This is where the real “action” may lie in terms of how we may discriminate against others’ world views (spiritually, politically, or otherwise). We may believe, for example
- What I believe is the true way.
- My way of believing is the best way.
- Other people would sure be happier or better off if they believed the way I do.
- People who believe other than the way I do are underdeveloped or sadly deluded.
- People who have not adopted the vows I have taken are less likely to be happy or successful than I am.
- People who are part of my group have “got it” or are chosen.
- Religion has been responsible for so many deaths in history that I choose not to believe.
How many of us had burning cheeks by the end? Possibly only those who in the moment recognized themselves. Thankfully, many of the people in the NASW workshop saw themselves in this reflection.
And two of those burning cheeks were mine.