Change your glasses
I know I'm not seeing things as they are, I'm seeing things as I am.
This is a very simple outdoor exercise in wich participants go out and explore the locality through someone else's eyes.
- Related rights
• To raise awareness of the inequalities in society
• To develop skills of observation and imagination
• To foster solidarity and motivation to work for justice
• Glasses. Old glasses from a second hand shop or flee market, or
just the frames.
• Large sheets of paper, and pens
• Old magazines, post cards, material, scraps for collage, glue
• Tape for hanging the pictures up
• A digital camera or mobile phone that can take pictures; ideally
one per person or one or several for the whole group
• Computer and printer
- Second Thursday in OctoberWorld Sight Day
1. With the group, brainstorm those people who are disadvantaged or living at the margin of society, for example a person with disabilities or a homeless person.
2. Ask each participant to choose one such person whom they are curious about and explain that they are going to go out and explore the locality through that person’s eyes.
3. Emphasise that the point is not to act out the role, but to go out and imagine what it would be like to be the other person. What would it be like to be in that person’s shoes? For instance, would they be able to enjoy all the amenities? Where would they buy bread (if they can afford it)? Where would they live?
4. Hand out the glasses if you have some! Tell participants that as they go around the locality they should take pictures either with digital cameras or on their mobile phones as documentation. Agree a time for everyone to return.
5. On their return, ask each participant to transfer their pictures onto the computer, then to choose two, three or four to print out, mount on a large piece of paper and tape onto the wall. The pictures should be untitled.
6. When all the pictures are displayed, ask everyone to try to guess which groups are being represented; then invite each participant in turn to present their pictures and to explain why they are particularly interested in the particular group they chose to “see”.
Begin by looking at the exhibition and then go on to ask participants in turn what they experienced and what they saw.
- What happened? Did you enjoy the activity? Why? Why not?
- What was the most surprising thing you discovered?
- Why did you choose the example you did?
- What preconceived ideas or stereotypes did you have about the person you chose? What influence did these have on how you did the activity and what you “chose to see”?
- Did the exercise enable you to empathise in any way with the person at the margin? Why? Why not?
- What have you learnt about yourself?
Now go on to discuss some of the broader issues:
- “I know I’m not seeing things as they are, I’m seeing things as I am.” What effect do our stereotypes and beliefs have on the way we see the world around us?
- Where do we get our information about disadvantaged and marginalised groups from?
- How risky is it to make assumptions about someone based on a generalisation about the groups as a whole?
- How risky is it to make generalisations about a group of people based on one or two examples?
- Which human rights specifically protect the different examples of disadvantaged people or those living at the margin which the participants identified?
- How are the rights of these people most frequently violated?
- How easy is it for them to claim their rights?
- Who should be responsible for making sure that their rights are not violated – or that they can exercise them?
You can run this activity as an introductory exercise or as the main activity. In a training meeting it can be done to give people a break and fresh air, or as something extra to be done in the participants’ free time.
The instructions suggest people work individually, but the activity can be done in small groups. Practical considerations such as the size of the group and availability of cameras will most probably determine how you organise the activity. Bear in mind that it takes time for people to introduce their pictures, so depending on the size of the group, restrict the number of pictures each person chooses to display.
Examples of people who are disadvantaged by society might include a single mother with small children, a pensioner, an immigrant, a person in a wheelchair or someone with HIV/AIDS.
Examples of people at the margin of society might include a homeless person, an illegal immigrant, an illiterate person, a mentally ill person or a member of the Roma community. These are examples of groups of people who do not have the opportunities that are available to the majority. All disadvantaged and marginalised people are poor and suffer from prejudice and stereotyping and are often discriminated against in some way, for instance in access to decent housing and jobs because of the situation they find themselves in.
It is very important that the participants understand that they can not escape from the fact that they are looking through their own eyes and imagining what it is like to be someone living at the margin of society. They should be aware that by bringing their existing stereotypes and feelings of empathy to the activity they risk reinforcing beliefs that may be distorted or wrong.
They should also know that stereotypes are (useful) generalisations about a group of people but that they should be used with caution as there will be wide variation within the group and the generalisation will not apply to every individual. For more information about stereotypes see the background information section on “Discrimination and Intolerance”.
The instructions suggest people work individually, but the activity can be done in small groups or with the whole group according to the number of cameras available to take pictures.
Instead of making individual posters, all the pictures can then be put together to make an exhibition or slide show entitled “Lives at the margin”.
Instead of making the pictures, ask participants on their return to make up an imaginary story about the person, or perform a mime.
If you want participants to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, then give the participants new shoes as well as new glasses! Different languages may have different expressions to suggest that people try to imagine themselves as and empathise with someone else.
The activity as described asks participants to imagine how someone who is disadvantagedor marginalised lives, and then to go out and try to see the world through their eyes. An alternative is to go out and observe and then to use imagination to build a picture of them. Explain that normally in our everyday lives we are very busy and don’t generally take a lot of notice of other people. Now they are going to look very carefully! Tell participants to go out into the town and within 5 minutes they must choose someone to follow. Emphasise that they should behave discreetly and not embarrass their target. It can be anyone they think looks “interesting”,
preferably someone whose life is very different from their own. Tell the participants that they must make a mental note of their very first impression and the reason they chose that particular person. Now they should follow their target and observe them carefully and try to imagine who they are and build up a picture of their life, for instance:
- What might their name be?
- How old are they?
- What are they doing?
- Where are they going?
- Where do they live?
- Do they have a partner or family, or are they single?
- Are they employed? What is their job? Or are they unemployed?
- What might make them happy?
- Do they have hobbies? What might they be?
- What do they like to eat and drink?
Agree that after, for example, 30 minutes everyone returns to share their experiences. They can talk about, or illustrate their target’s life in words and pictures.
You may like to use the roles listed in the activity “Take a step forward”. It makes both a good introduction to the activity or an appropriate follow-up.
In “Take a step forward” you can feel the way inequality of opportunity affects people’s lives.
In the activity “Tale of two cities” you can explore the way the choices we make about financing social welfare affect community life.
To get out of their situation at the margins of society, people need a job with a decent wage. This can be difficult if you are, for instance, disabled or an immigrant. You can explore some of the issues in the activity “I want to work”.
Do the activity with family, friends or colleagues and start a discussion about human rights.
You can also check your assumptions about marginalised people by arranging to meet some of them, for example through a Living Library project or, if you are interested in homeless people or refugees, by visiting a shelter or an asylum centre. Alternatively you could contact a youth worker or social worker working with marginalised people and ask them to tell you about the realities of the people they work with.
In the context of this activity we use the term “disadvantaged” to mean individuals, or a group of people, who are not able to support themselves, are not self sufficient and have to rely on financial support. Thus they are poor. Examples might include a single mother, an immigrant or a person with disabilities. People are often “disadvantaged” because mainstream society acts in ways that “disadvantages” them. These people and groups see themselves as disadvantaged to the extent that they are denied access to healthcare, education, information and employment, compared with those in the mainstream of society. Disadvantaged people may also feel a lack of autonomy, incentive, responsibility and self-respect. Barriers to self sufficiency can include the unavailability of resources, for example, lack of employment, capital or accessibility of public transportation for physically disabled people. Inaccessibility is another barrier: cost, poor design, distance, lack of publicity and society’s regard for a group. A resource may also be inaccessible because it is disliked or distasteful to a certain group or may run counter to its own values. Those people who are “disadvantaged” may or may not also be living at “the margin of society”.
When we use the term “the margins of society” we refer to a conceptual rather than a physical location. Essentially people living at the margin of society are excluded from participating in society. Examples of people living at the margin may include prisoners, the homeless, the incurably mentally ill or certain groups, for instance the Roma. For example, a homeless person may not be able to register to vote because they cannot provide a mailing address. This may mean that they lose out on voting on key issues that might affect them; they remain outside of society because they don’t have a say in how they are governed or in the services provided for them. Another example could be someone who is illiterate who becomes an outcast because they are unable to fill out support claim forms or job applications.
The Living Library is an idea that started in Denmark in the year 2000 and is now promoted by the Council of Europe through its book, Don’t judge a book by its cover!. A Living Library works exactly like a normal library – readers come and borrow a “book” for a limited period of time. After reading it they return the Book to the library and – if they want – they can borrow another Book. There is only one difference: the Books in the Living Library are human beings, and the Books and readers enter into a personal dialogue. The Books in the Living Library are people representing groups frequently confronted with prejudices and stereotypes, and who are often victims of discrimination or social exclusion.
For further reading about the framework for describing disadvantagement and issues for
social action you can consult: What is a “Disadvantaged Group?” by Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D www.effectivecommunities.com/articles