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Embracing Contradictions

Photo by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash

Developing a Paradox Mindset

Dear collaborative discussion friends,

This week we are highlighting an activity that helps participants develop a “paradox mindset” by engaging with, rather than avoiding, the contradictions inherent in many problems, situations, and people. Contradictions are often seen as undesirable. Through this activity, participants are able to see how contradictions can instead be useful. They can reveal the complexity of a particular topic and stretch our thinking, increasing the creativity and flexibility with which we approach an issue.

In celebration of Alan Arkin’s life, enjoy his description of Catch 22, the ultimate contradiction.

This activity is contributed by Jack Byrd Jr., Professor of Industrial Engineering at West Virginia University and President of the Interactivity Foundation, and Shannon Wheatley Hartman, Vice President of the Interactivity Foundation. It is one of the many activities in the Creative Collaboration Module.

If you missed the previous newsletter, Promoting Curiosity, you can access it and our other weekly newsletters by subscribing below.


This week’s activity:

Activity 2.2 – Embracing Contradictions

Develop flexibility of thought by engaging with contradictions

This activity helps participants think about contradictions on various levels. First, it introduces statements that contain paradoxes. Participants discuss these prompts, exploring both their thoughts and feelings when faced with these contradictions. Participants are then encouraged to reflect on their personal contradictions, helping demonstrate how having internal contradictions is a part of what makes us complex individuals. Using the insights they have gained, participants then engage in a discussion about a particular topic and the contradictions inherent in policies or solutions related to this issue.

Activity 2.2 – Embracing Contradictions

Introduce Paradoxes and Break into Small Groups to Discuss

Begin by introducing the following sentences, which are paradoxes or include contradictions, on a shared surface visible to everyone or a shared document:

  • You have to spend money to make money.
  • You have to be cruel to be kind.
  • Don’t get in the water until you learn to swim.
  • This sentence is a lie.
  • Can you promise not to make any more promises?
  • I’m a compulsive liar.

Invite participants to break into small groups (4-6 ppl). Ask participants to review the statements provided and discuss:

  • How do they make sense of these contradictions?
  • How do they feel when confronted by contradictions? Energized? Stumped?
  • How do they reconcile these opposing ideas?

Discuss Personal Contradictions

Next, invite participants to reflect on their personal contradictions. Have participants use this Contradiction Template to list a few of the contradictions present within themselves. Once they have completed their list, have them share it with their small group, or in pairs, and discuss:

  • How is it possible for us to contain these contradictions?
  • What does this tell us about ourselves?

Discuss Policy Contradictions for a Selected Topic

Provide participants with the following list of topics, displayed on a shared surface or document. (If your group as a whole is gathered to talk about another specific issue, you could also choose instead to have participants discuss that issue for this round of the activity.) Invite participants to pick one topic to discuss in their small groups from this list:

  • Affirmative action
  • Policing
  • National security
  • Disability
  • Environmentalism

Ask participants to discuss the policies associated with their selected topic and the paradoxes or contradictions inherent in these policies.

Debrief as a Full Group

Come back together as a full group and discuss:

  • What have you learned about contradictions?
  • How might contradictions or paradoxes help you to see the problem in a new way?
  • How might paradoxes help you to question assumptions?

In addition to these debriefing questions, the full description of Activity 2.2 Embracing Contradictions includes reflection questions, a practice journal prompt, and additional resources to help participants dive deeper.

If you try out this activity, please share with us what you think:

Rate Activity 2.2

We hope this toolkit activity helps participants develop a “paradox mindset” and practice flexible thinking by engaging with contradictions and seeing them as opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of a particular issue, situation or person.

Upcoming Events

  • Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago is organizing Guanacaste 2023: The Transformational Listening Conference, from October 5 to October 7, 2023. We are excited to share that Dr. John G. Igwebuike, the founder of Guanacaste: The Lead Listening Institute, and one of our Collaborative Discussion Coaches, will be incorporating part of the Collaborative Discussion Toolkit in the conference this year. All are welcome! Learn more and register here.
  • We are now accepting applications for our Pilot Coach Training for Undergraduate Students which will take place this fall. Space will be limited. The dates for this training have been updated. It will now begin on September 26, 2023. Visit our website to learn more and view the complete list of dates and times, which are also shown on the application. The application deadline has also been extended to September 10, 2023. All undergraduate students who are interested can apply here or you can share this link with students who might be interested.

Looking forward to collaborating,

Ritu Thomas & the Collaborative Discussion Team