Posted by: W. E. Poplaski | April 17, 2013

Diversity Awareness Exercise: The Story

Diversity Awareness Exercise

The Diversity Awareness Exercise helps to build social cohesion of a group by making individuals more knowledgeable about the diversity that exists among them.


An ironic difficulty sometimes faced in cross-cultural interactions is that rather than being too aware of the differences between people, we are too insensitive to the diversity that exists around us.  That is to say, we wrongly assume other people share the same values, outlook, and even opinions as ourselves. With that assumption, we run the risk of interpreting the actions of others based on our own values, instead of their own.  Consequently, we are too often unpleasantly surprised when our predictions of their behavior prove to be inaccurate.

The Diversity Awareness Exercise reminds us that a consequence of our individual uniqueness is the diversity of our values, outlooks and opinions.  Failing to recognize and respect that diversity can inhibit social cohesion.  It can be the difference that prevents a crowd from becoming a community.

This exercise involves a facilitator reading a short scenario, ‘The Story’, to an audience and then asking the audience members to each rank the characters in the scenario according to the character’s goodness.  The Story is only read once and ‘goodness’ is not defined to the audience (each person is allowed to define it for themselves). The facilitator then leads a discussion comparing the various rankings the audience members give to the characters, emphasizing the diversity of opinion concerning how the characters should be ranked.

Participants of this exercise sometimes ask, “What is the correct ranking of the characters?” Of course, there is no correct order.  However, more to the point of the exercise are the related questions, “To what extent does each of us consider our own ranking the correct one and how do we react to others who may rank the characters differently?”

An important final discussion point is to ask the audience to consider how diversity of values, outlooks and opinions might come into play in their everyday interactions with other community members.




  1. The facilitator reads ‘The Story’ (on page 3) to the audience after providing the audience with index cards.
  2. After reading ‘The Story’, the facilitator asks each person to rank —without any help from other audience members—the six characters in the story according to ‘goodness’.  Each person does this by writing a list of the character’s names on the index cards starting from ‘best’ and ending with ‘worst’.  The facilitator does not give any instructions to the audience as to how ‘goodness’ should be defined.
  3. Alternate 1.  If the audience is small (e.g., fewer than 30 individuals), then enter directly into a discussion that overtly is about achieving a consensus concerning the order of ranking for the characters.  However, the facilitator should lead the discussion in such a way as to encourage opposing points of view.  The underlying purpose of the discussion actually is to demonstrate the great diversity of opinion about something as simple as the interpretation of The Story. The facilitator begins the discussion by asking how many people think that the character Mary, for example, was the ‘best’ and writing the number of votes for her on a large board. Then, the facilitator goes down the list of characters, asking if each should be listed as the ‘best’ and recording the votes for all to see.  During the course of this process the facilitator should encourage discussion justifying each person’s reason for the ranking.  Next, the same is done for the ranking of ‘worst’.  The other positions (i.e., second best, second worst, etc.) can be done depending on whether the facilitator feels enough diversity of opinion has been demonstrated with the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ rankings.  The ensuing discussion can then segue into a discussion about the need to consider our own values, and our assumptions about the values of others, whenever we interact with other people.
  4. Alternate 2.  If the audience is large, then after each person ranks the characters, divide the audience into small groups of four or five members.  Each of these small groups is then given 15 to 20 minutes to come to a consensus, as best they can, about the ranking. They are instructed not to come to a consensus until each member has had the opportunity to justify his or her own ranking.  Moreover, each group should be isolated so that they cannot hear the discussions of other groups.  Then, the facilitator brings the small groups together and, as in Alternate 1, attempts to develop an overall consensus among them as to the order of ranking for the characters, but using the rankings developed from each small group.
  5. Alternate 2 has at least three advantages over Alternate 1.  First, it provides a mechanism for less outgoing people to contribute to the discussion.  Some people may feel inhibited from sharing their thoughts in a large group.  Second, if each small group has a cross-representation of classes, it forces interaction among people from different classes as the small groups go about their work of developing a consensus. Third, it demonstrates that even after the deliberation occurring in small groups, diversity in opinion among groups still exists.  Therefore, this diversity of opinion must be caused by something deeper than simple differences in ‘snap judgments’ (e.g., closely held values are likely influencing judgments).
  6. Regardless of whether Alternate 1 or 2 is used, the exercise builds cohesion among the larger audience members by getting them to become more knowledgeable about each other’s values.  It also makes one more aware about his or her own tendency to assume other people necessarily view the world in a compatible manner.
  7. An important role of the facilitator during this exercise is to make sure that everyone’s right to their own opinion is respected.


The Story

(from a Peace Corps Training Exercise in Ashburnham, Mass., summer 1977)

This is a story about six characters: Mary, John, Sinbad, Mother, Grandmother, and a Man on a White Horse. Listen as it is read, paying attention to each of the characters.


Being the youngest daughter, Mary would do her family’s laundry every morning at the riverside.  One morning she noticed a boy, John, on the opposite riverbank.  Soon they were waving to each other, and in time they fell in love.

Mary could barely stand being apart from John, so she searched for a means to cross the river.  There was a ferry just a short distance away operated by Sinbad.  Mary asked Sinbad if he would take her across.

“Sure,” he said, “But you must pay the fare.” Mary did not have any money.  She explained to Sinbad why she wanted to cross the river, hoping he would be sympathetic.

He then said, “OK, if you sleep with me, I will take you across for free.”

Mary was shocked!  She ran to her mother and told mom the whole story.

Mom replied, “Foolish girl! Get back to the laundry and forget about that boy.  Stay on this side of the river.”

Distraught and crying, Mary ran to her grandmother, told grandma the whole story and asked for her advice.

Grandma simply said, “Do whatever you think is best.”

When Mary left Grandma, she felt very confused as to what she should do.  She decided to act on her own.  That evening Mary went to Sinbad, slept with him, and he took her to the other side.

She ran to John and they embraced.  She told John the whole story.

John became visibly angry and told her he never wanted to see her again.

As Mary knelt on the beach sobbing, a man on a white horse came out of the woods and approached her.  “May I be of any assistance, young lady?” he asked.

Mary told him what happened.  In a rage, the man on a white horse went after John and beat him up.


Now, take 3 minutes to rank each of the 6 characters in “The Story” according to his or her goodness and write your rankings on the cards provided.


[ Note: this story is very similar to ‘The Alligator River Story’ credited to Uma Sekaran and W.C. Coscarelli.  However, I am unable to determine when they first published it.]

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