Hey everyone! Three years ago or so, my group in sleep away camp had us all play a game. It involved an impending and total nuclear holocaust and the ability to save only five people. Each village member was gifted a single sentence descriptor of a person – mine was ‘seventeen year old heroin addict’ – and was told to choose which five (out of forty) were worth saving.
A single description isn’t a lot to go on, especially when you are acting as the arbiter of life and death. There are things you must consider! For example; do you save the children, who might be dead weight, or the adult who, although useful, might not ensure the continuation of the human race and for that matter, is the perpetuation of the human race necessarily the ultimate goal at all?
It is terrible and fascinating work to do, and in the previous workshop, we had the kids attempt to do the same.
Something funny was said
Once they were divided into three groups, they were informed that the city was flooded, but there was a boat that could hold ten people, though fifteen were available to save: a smoker, a Muslim mother, a 150 Kg man, a rich bachelor, a beggar woman, a Sikh soldier, a female celebrity, a ten year old maid, an alcoholic, a Hindu man, a blind man, a man with AIDS, an engineer, an artist, and a mason.
At first, the group I was in made snap judgements without a second thought. As an onlooker, I found it truly difficult not to react to some of their rationalizations with excessively acrobatic eyebrow gestures (“We shouldn’t save the Hindu man!” they all agreed, “he has nothing special to offer.”) When the decisions got too superficial for me to bear, I began asking questions. Needless to say, my group got aggravated very quickly – first with me (“You’re making things so confusing!”), then with each other (“You’re only saving the Sikh soldier because your father is Sikh!”).
Then, they started to fight for the admission of certain individuals against others, giving critical reasons and backing them up. It was sort of exhilarating, though when I laughed to myself the kids gave me looks of utmost incredulity. Their views on certain people are unshakeable and solid, but as they fought I saw them pausing, sitting back, and blinking a bit at what they found themselves saying.
Some of the kids explaining why their choices made it onto the boats (and lived)
When it came to a group discussion though, the judgements came back a little and got more provocative. Juliana, another intern, brought up the idea that instead of claiming that we are noble judges, suited ideally for choosing who might live and who might die, we ought to choose randomly. No one person is ultimately more deserving of life than another. This went over their heads entirely.
It is, of course, a long process. You can’t expect people who have been taught under an indoctrinatory education system their whole lives to rip free of inertia and bloom immediately into critical thinkers after only a few exercises. Unrealistic, to be sure, but still, they are blooming at a remarkable speed. They have been so incredibly inhibited, mummified by the system, and it’s such a pleasure to see them rip the system to shreds with a vicious pleasure in the workshops. I’m a bit giddy with excitement watching it happen, actually.
Emma King is a student at Swarthmore College . Emma worked with ITSA as a Workshop Leader and Publicity Director in 2011.