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Embracing Contradictions

Submitted by Jack Byrd, Jr. & Shannon Wheatley Hartman

Contradictions can be helpful. They can help us to see complexity and develop flexibility of thought. Most issues (and people) contain contradictions. Instead of being stumped by contradictions, this activity encourages participants to lean into this discomfort and develop a “paradox mindset.”

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 1 votes, rating(s)
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Learning Goal

  • Learn how to identify contradictions and frame them in a way that embraces complexity and encourages flexible thinking.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Organize participants into pairs or small groups (3-5 ppl).

Share the Contradiction Template as a hand out or invite participants to draw this chart on a piece of paper.

Before beginning this activity, play the following clip from the movie Catch 22 as an introduction to contradictions.

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Play with Contradictory Statements (10 min)

Invite participants to discuss the following statements:

  • You have to spend money to make money.

  • You have to be cruel to be kind.

  • Don’t get in the water until you learn to swim.

  • This sentence is a lie.

  • Can you promise not to make any more promises?

  • I’m a compulsive liar.

Each sentence is a paradox or contains some sort of contradiction.

Invite participants to discuss how they make sense of these contradictions.

How do you feel when confronted by contradictions? Energized? Stumped? How do you reconcile these opposing ideas?

Step Two: Reflect on Personal Contradictions (20 min)

Next, encourage participants to think about internal or personal contradictions.

Using the Contradiction Template, invite each participant to generate their own list of contradictions.

Ask them to share these lists with their partner or group.

Discuss: How is it possible for us to contain these contradictions? What does this tell us about ourselves?

Step Three: Discuss Contradictions in Policy (20 min)

In pairs or small groups, explore one of the following topics. Discuss policies related to this topic and how they may seem contradictory or even a paradox, depending on how you think about the topic:

  • Affirmative action

  • Policing

  • National security

  • Disability

  • Environmentalism

  • Welfare

  • Gun Control

Step Four: Debrief as a Full Group (10 min)

After thinking about contradictions from three different levels (statements, personal, policy), discuss:

  • What have you learned about contradictions?

  • How might contradictions or paradoxes help you to see issues in a new way?

  • How might paradoxes help you to question assumptions?





Creative Collaboration

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average rating is 4 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:42:10 PM

This activity is great when a group is comfortable sharing thoughts--but it is modified to be more introspective at first. There are two versions of this, one to recognize "normalized" feelings, the other is labeled "extreme" as the group was practicing navigating high emotion. This first one covers parents, cats, dogs: This one is to recognize more difficult to talk about feelings of fear, disgust, etc.:

average rating is 5 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:28:11 PM

This activity was modified for a Business & Professional Communication class. It is best when the groups have gone through the guidelines activity to help facilitate how to communicate and even the 3.4 ambiguity. This is a difficult activity if the class is uncomfortable speaking (and in my case they were very adverse to discussing these in any group). Here is how I set it up (along with a print out of the words). It is modified to fit the business world, but worked well as a concept.

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:33:05 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:31:01 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

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February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

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January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

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