The Similarity of Opposites

Imagined By: Laurie Carlsson
Approximate Time: 30-45 minutes
Location: Anywhere
Materials: None  

I’ve been thinking a lot about the faux division we place between “scientific” knowledge and “perceived” or “lived” knowledge. I loved how Ethiopia (in Sanford and Sun) talked about measuring constellations by dancing and it made me think about how much more integrated our knowledge production could be. We create divisions in so many different ways and they often keep us from building community and solving problems creatively. We section ourselves off into disciplines (“activist,” “legal aid attorney,” “social worker,” “teacher,” etc.) and into issue areas (environmental justice, racial justice, reproductive justice, etc), and though sometimes divisions are necessary, I think we would be better off most of the time if we were able to see past them.  

I’ve taken one of my favorite low-stakes ice breakers and made it into a higher-stakes activity that has the potential to build on a community’s ability to see past difference and division and create connections together, using their own differences as a strength.


Create a real or imaginary line down the middle of the room. Create a list of seemingly opposite concepts or words (see list below). State the first word while pointing to one side of the room and the second while pointing to the other. Ask participants to choose the side that they resonate with the most. After everyone has chosen a side, ask them to pair up with someone from the opposite side. Together the pair will create a list of as many similarities between the concepts as they can think of in 5 minutes. When the 5 minutes is up, each pair shares one similarity and the total number of similarities they were able to come up with. Repeat this process with the next pair of words or concepts.

A good mix of social justice-related concepts and random other concepts will help bring participants’ “other selves” into the room and feel inclusive to those who might not have as much organizing experience. If there is an uneven split between the two “sides,” folks can simply pair up with someone standing on the same side of the line. If there is an uneven number of participants, three people can partner up.

Word/Concept Pair Examples:

Hip Hop Dancing AND Physics
Science Fiction AND Shakespeare
Environmental Justice AND Queer Theory
Traffic Signals AND Libertarianism
Sky Scrapers AND Community Gardens
Pasta AND Polar Bears
Racial Justice Movements AND Police Departments

Debrief questions:

Which were the hardest concepts to unite?

Was it more difficult coming up with similarities with someone across the line or on the same side of the line as you?

How could the ability to see commonalities make some aspect of your work more effective?  


Tags: Radical Education, Unlearning, Societal-reflection, Self-reflection