Group Dialogue – Promise and Peril of the Past and the Future
This 1 to 1.5 hour group dialogue offers an opportunity to explore the different ways we respond to learning about climate change and other complex challenges that we face. It is an inquiry into the polarities of the promise and peril of the past and the future. It guides reflection on participants' thoughts and feelings (hope and despair) related to learning about climate change and how they are viewing the current moment in relation to the challenges we face.
At one level, this exercise is a simple structure for reflection, inquiry, and learning from others. At another level, it supports taking a more holistic and integrative view of a complex challenge by giving participants on opportunity to explore 4 different perspectives on the challenges we face. Doing so supports us to consider how each perspective has something important to contribute, as well as that any one taken to the exclusion of the others limits our understanding and therefore limits our insights for how to address the challenges and the potential solutions that might be generated.
- To engage in reflective dialogue about our thoughts and feelings related to learning about climate change.
- To consider perspectives other than your own and explore taking a more holistic and integrative view of the challenges we face.
- To explore the dynamics of hope and despair in relation to complex and overwhelming challenges and how these feelings can shape and guide our actions/inactions, as well as creative capacities to imagine and work towards solutions.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
At one level, this exercise is a simple structure for reflection, inquiry and learning from others. At another level, it supports taking a more holistic and integrative view of a complex challenge by giving participants on opportunity to explore 4 different perspectives on the challenges we face. Doing so supports us to consider how each perspective has something important to contribute, as well as that any one taken to the exclusion of the others limits our understanding and therefore limits our insights for how to address the challenges and the potential solutions that might be generated.
Write Past, Future, Promise, Peril on four sheets of paper in bold marker. Tape the paper on opposite walls of the room. Promise and peril on opposite walls, and past and future on opposite walls. Using masking tape on the floor, draw a line between each of the papers so that you have a 4 quadrant cross on the floor, clearly delineating 4 spaces (promise of the future, peril of the future, promise of the past, peril of the past). Clear tables and chairs so that students can move easily through the 4 spaces. Make sure there is enough room in each space for a group to gather.
See the overview and instruction document for more detail. Overview and instructions for the Group Dialogue on the Promise and Peril of the Past and the Future (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 152kB Jul23 17)
To do a shorter and simpler version of this activity, only use steps 1-4. This takes about an hour. The full exercise takes about 1.5 hours to complete. This is ideal for groups of 10 or more participants.
Instruct students to wander around the 4 spaces considering what they think and feel about the challenges we face with regards to climate change. It is an opportunity to explore hope and despair as well as our view of the past and the future regarding human/nature relationships. Choose one of the 4 spaces.
1. Experiencing the polarity of past/future – promise (light) /perilous (dark) (3-4 mins)
a. Wander around the room (no talking), explore what the space feels like. What do you think or feel in these different areas?
b. Find your spot – or let it find you
2. Written Reflection (silent) (5 mins)
a. What brought you to this space? What thoughts/feelings arise?
b. In what ways is this spot familiar, new or perhaps there is a way in which it shapes or defines you?
3. Forms groups (20 mins) (no larger than 5. There can be more than 1 group in each quadrant)
a. What is it like to be in this space? Why are you where you are?
b. What are you thinking and feeling about climate change and our past or future?
4. Groups share what they talked about – just the highlights...give examples – just a few minutes each (10 mins)
c. What are the gifts and possible challenges of this space – way of being and seeing?
5. Groups share how they see the other groups? They might have questions for the other groups, as well as appreciations but also judgments... (10 mins)
a. Share / Discuss
b. How do we need each other?
6. One within the other (10 mins)
a. You might be shaped or defined by this, but how is it that all the other points are equally valid and valuable?
b. If you can take within you the other's view of climate change and our current challenges– can you find compassion for them? Can you be equally responsible for their position?
c. How do each of these polarities define each other, require each other?
7. Step back into the full circle.
a. Feel how you have all of these points and perspectives within you– ways of being with what is happening within you – feel the fullness of that.
b. Let it all go – in a way these are simply perspectives we take on all of this, stories that we are telling – let yourself simply come into contact with what is, find some stillness and rest in that.
Teaching Notes and Tips
This reflective activity can be done in shorter 1-hour version or a longer 1.5-hour version. The shorter version is simpler and more suitable for younger students such as freshman and sophomore. The longer version involves more complex thinking and perspective taking, and is more suitable for seniors and graduate students. If you choose to use the longer version, walk through the exercise first, read a little about working with polarities in the classroom and consider where students might struggle or get confused. During the discussion, be certain to point out if you notice students getting caught in either/or thinking, and help the students to reframe what is being said to include more of a both/and perspective - to find value and meaning in all of the different perspectives as we consider the past and the future through the lenses of hope and despair, promise and peril.
This is not a graded activity. Students might receive credit for participation, but there are no right and wrong answers in this activity. Rather, it is an opportunity to put complexity and confusion into a much larger context of how we relate to the world and how we think about and what we feel about what is happening in the world.