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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.”

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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 5 out of 5


November 29, 2022 at 1:50:37 AM

Activity 2.2 is another innovative and useful activity that helps us explore, engage, work with a topic that can be frustrating or difficult for many, i.e. contradictions in the world and ourselves.

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