Activity time: 15 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Newsprint, markers and tape
- Participants' faith journals
- Pens or pencils
Preparation for Activity
- Write the discussion questions on newsprint and post.
- Research organizations in your community that anonymously support youth, such as youth hotlines, suicide hotlines, or hotlines for youth dealing with bullying or identity issues. Write the contact information for these groups on newsprint.
Description of Activity
This activity addresses identity, assimilation, tolerance, and self-expression. Participants reflect on times that they have found themselves in intolerant environments, and how they have hidden or expressed themselves in different ways.
Begin with the following introductory explanation:
We all, at some points in our lives, find ourselves in environments that are intolerant of who we are. Some people choose to hide parts of their identity because of this, knowing that it may be unsafe for them to express themselves fully. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people often find themselves in this situation, "closeted" because of fear of expressing who they really are. Immigrants, or people whose culture differs from the dominant one may hide parts of their culture or way of life in order to fit in. People who come from poor or working class families may try to hide this part themselves and appear otherwise. People whose religious ideas are in conflict with traditional or established religion may not be honest about what they believe, or may try to express their beliefs in an anonymous way. People with unorthodox religious beliefs are often called heretics, and when they are persecuted and killed for their beliefs, they become martyrs. Some of our Unitarian ancestors were among those labeled heretics, and while we claim them proudly today as setting the stage for greater religious freedom, the religious intolerance they experienced was dangerous and repressive. These are just some examples of people who are not able to express their full selves because of intolerant environments. They are forced to hide some parts of themselves, and choose to express others, making it difficult to live with wholeness and dignity.
Lead a short discussion with the following questions you have written on newsprint:
- Have you ever tried to hide some aspect of your identity or culture? If so, why?
- Have you ever discovered that someone you know had been hiding some part of their culture or identity from you? How did this discovery feel and how did you respond?
- What other situations can you think of that force or encourage people to hide or give up parts of their identity?
Write the term "safe space" on a blank sheet of newsprint. Explain that it refers to a tolerant and welcoming place where people can be who they truly are and not have to "disown" parts of themselves. Participants may have heard of this concept before, especially in the context of youth groups.
Ask them to share their understanding of "safe space." Ask, "What are the qualities of "safe space?" Where is this "safe space" and with whom do you share it? Write their responses on newsprint.
Now invite participants to imagine a safe space where they could fully live out all their identities. What would that safe space look like? How would it feel to be able to embrace every part of themselves?
Close by encouraging participants to seek a safe space if they feel in an intolerant place. They can seek out safe space through their congregation, with trusted friends, with school counselors or clubs, or at youth or community centers in their local area. Point out the local resources you have posted on newsprint and ask everyone to write them in their journals. Close by thanking the participants for being open in their reflection and sharing.