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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 1 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

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

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

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

average rating is 4 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:18:02 AM


average rating is 5 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:17:25 AM

very good

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