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Developing Comfort with Ambiguity

Submitted by Jack Crittenden

This activity is designed to encourage participants to grapple with “no win” situations. Through discussion, participants will explore seemingly simple moral dilemmas which will actually expose the complexity of decision-making.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 2 votes, rating(s)
Rubin's Vase, an example of an ambiguous image

Learning Goals

  • Develop an appreciation for complexity and ambiguity and move beyond “good vs. bad” binary thinking.

  • Practice developing arguments for particular actions.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Select a single or set of moral dilemmas from the What IF…Moral Dilemmas Collection or create your own moral dilemmas relevant to your group. For the dilemma(s), also generate three “monkey wrenches” or twists, which add new variables or alter the dilemma in some way with the aim of getting participants to reevaluate their initial choice.

Organize participants into small groups (4-6 ppl).

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Put Initial Reactions on the Table (10 min)

Provide the moral dilemma as a handout or on a shared screen so that participants can review it together and at their own pace.

In small groups, each participant should read and then react to the dilemma. Record or take notes of initial reactions, such as “I'd do this…This is wrong…You can't act that way, etc.”

Get all views on the table without discussion or critical examination. All participants need to offer an initial suggestion as to what they would do in this situation.

Step Two: Discuss the Dilemma (10 min)

Open up the discussion. Participants can ask each other questions. They are invited to make a case for their position and explore the positions of others.

  • What's wrong with doing X? Why is doing Y the right thing to do?

  • Why would someone oppose Y?

  • Which values are informing your position?

Step Three: Introduce Monkey Wrenches (20 min)

When the discussion begins to slow down, reach consensus or an impasse, initiate a lightning round of “monkey wrenches.”

Introduce these one at a time. After each new monkey wrench, invite brief discussion and poll participants. Has this new information forced you to change your position? Why?

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

  • How did it feel having to take an initial reaction to the dilemma?

  • How does this activity help you to empathize with decision-makers?

  • How, if at all, did your initial reaction to this dilemma change over the course of the discussion? What helped you to change your mind? Or, what helped you to solidify your initial reactions?





Critical Collaboration

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average rating is 5 out of 5

September 10, 2023 at 8:54:27 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5


November 29, 2022 at 6:11:26 AM

Activity 3.4 uses detailed prompts and twists to encourage participants to move beyond binary thinking, which allows to them to recognize the grey areas of decision-making.

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