Change Your Glasses

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  • Number of participants = Any
  • Theme = Inequality, privileges, discrimination
  • Duration = 90 minutes
  • Difficult for participants = Level 2
  • Difficulty for facilitator = Level 2

Summary

This is a very simple outdoor exercise in which participants go outside and explore the neighbourhood through someone else’s eyes.

Goals/Learning Objectives

  • To raise awareness of the inequalities in society
  • To develop skills of observation and imagination
  • To foster solidarity and motivation to work for justice.

Materials

  • Glasses: old glasses from a second hand shop or a flea market, or just the frame. Alternatively, participants can create their own glasses from paper.
  • Paper, large sheets
  • 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

Flow of the Exercise

In a plenary, do a brainstorm about people who are disadvantaged, living at the margins of society, facing inequality or/and discrimination for instance homeless people.

Ask each participant to choose a type of person from the brainstorm. Explain to the participants that they will go outside to explore the neighbourhood through that person’s eyes.

Emphasise that the point is not to act out the role, but to imagine what it would be like to be this other person.

Hand out the glasses!

Tell participants to wander around in the room quietly for a short time and try to imagine what it would be like to be in their person’s shoes. Ask some question as they wander around and give enough time for them to imagine the details.

Possible questions:
Where do you live?
What do you do? What kind of clothes are you wearing?
What is a usual day like for you?
What is your hobby?
How much money do you have in a month?
What does a family dinner look like for you?
How often do you see your friends?
How was your day today?
How do you feel?
Which was your happiest day during the last month?
What happened on that day?

Tell the participants that is now the time to go outside. They should take pictures either with a digital camera or on their mobile phones to document while they go around the neighbourhood. Alternatively, you could ask them to draw their pictures. Agree a time for everyone to return.

On their return, ask each participant to transfer their pictures onto the computer. They should choose two, three or four pictures to print out, mount on a large piece of paper and finally tape onto the wall. The pictures should be untitled.

When all the pictures are displayed, ask everyone to try to guess which groups are being represented. Then, invite each participant to present their pictures and to explain why they are particularly interested in the type of person through whose eyes they chose to ‘see’.

Debriefing

Begin by looking at the exhibition on the wall and then, 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 examples you did for your pictures?
  • Which preconceived ideas or stereotypes did you have about the person you chose? What kind of influence did these have on how you did this activity and what you chose to ‘see’?
  • Did the exercise enable you to empathise in any way the discrimination/racism? Why/why not?
  • What have you learnt about yourself?
  • Go on to discuss some of the broader issues.
  • ‘I know I am not seeing things as they are, I am 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?
  • How risky is it to make assumptions about someone based on generalisations of groups as a whole?
  • How risky is it to generalise about a group of people based on one or two examples?
  • Which human rights specifically protect the different examples of discriminated people or those facing racism, which participants identified?
  • To what extent are the rights of these people most frequently violated?How easy is it for them to claim these rights?
  • Who should be responsible for making sure that their rights are not violated – or that they can exercise them?

Variations

If you want participants to put themselves ‘in someone else’s shoes’, then give the participants shoes to wear as well as glasses. Be aware that different languages may have different expressions to suggest that people try to imagine themselves as and empathise with someone else.

Instead of imagining someone, the facilitator can use the roles from the method Take a Step Forward or the trainer can pre-select newspaper article(s) in advance about people who face discrimination/racism. In this case, the focus is only on one specific target group based on the selected article. Instead of making individual posters, all the pictures can be put together to make an exhibition or slide show entitled ‘Living with Racism/Discrimination’. Instead of taking pictures, ask participants on their return to make up an imaginary story about the person.

Check Your Privileges! is another way to explore and to reflect on your own privilege.

Possible Follow up Activities

Use the method Take a Step Forward so participants can experience the way inequality of opportunity affects people’s lives.

Use the method Path to Equality Land, where participants explore issues of discrimination and racism through imagination and drawing, and try to overcome the inequalities, which they might have observed through this one.

After exploring the neighbourhood through someone else’s eyes, the group may want to continue working on understanding the discrimination, they have just explored to reflect on their own prejudice and explore their experiences of interpersonal discrimination during everyday life in the method Do Not Act Like Me!

The discriminations they have just explored, and how to overcome them make for a good drama activity for the method Forum Theatre. Ask two, three or four people to develop a short role-play of an incident. The rest of the group observe. You can stop the role-play at intervals and ask the audience to comment or to make suggestions about how the roleplay should continue. Alternatively, members of the audience can intervene directly to take over from the actors and develop alternative outcomes.

To follow up on sensitivities of stereotypes and privileges, you can implement the method What Is Your Single Story?

Do the activity with your family, friends or colleagues to start a discussion about human rights. You can also challenge your assumptions about people who are marginalised or disadvantaged 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 someone who works with people who are marginalised or disadvantaged and ask them to tell you about the people they work with.

Living Library

The Council of Europe promotes the Living Library through its book: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover!’ A Living Library works exactly like a normal library. There is only one difference: The books in the Living Library are human beings. 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 affected by discrimination or social exclusion.

Recommendations

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.

It is very important that participants understand that they cannot escape from the fact that they are looking through their own eyes and only imagining what it is like to be someone else. 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 could sometimes be useful 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.

Definitions, Helping Tools and Materials

In the context of this activity, the term ‘disadvantaged’ may describe individuals, or a group of people, who are not able to support themselves, are not self-sufficient or have to rely on
financial support. Examples might include a single mother or a recent immigrant. 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 people with physical disabilities. 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. Examples of people who are disadvantaged by society might include a single mother with small children, a pensioner, a recent immigrant, or a person in a wheelchair. Some people who are ‘disadvantaged’ may or may not also be ‘living at the margins of society’.

The term, ‘margins of society’ refers to a conceptual rather than a physical location. Essentially, people living at the margin of society are excluded from participating in broader society. Examples of people at the margin of society might include a homeless person, an illegal immigrant, an illiterate person, a mentally ill person, a prisoner or a member of the Roma community. These are examples of groups of people who may not have the same opportunities that are available to the majority. Disadvantaged and marginalised people suffer from prejudice and stereotyping and are often discriminated against in some way.

Adapted from Council of Europe (2017). Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People. Change your glasses. Strasbourg.

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