Six Degrees of Separation – Giving The Mennonite Game the sixth degree!

1) Introduce the activity by telling the story of Stanley Milgram from The Tipping Point (click on the Stanley Milgram link for a thorough Wikipedia explanation and critique of the experiment).

2) Use one of the following activities:

  • Ahead of time, pair unlike participants. Give each one only the name and some personal info of the other, such as alma mater, job/career, religious affiliation, hobbies, sports, etc. Within the group, find your partner one degree (connection) at a time. How many degrees separate you from each other? That’s your “degree of separation”. Now that you’ve met, can you find a direct connection?
  • In six minutes, make connections with as many people in this room as possible. Write down what the “connection” is for each person (name & connection). In a heavily Mennonite (or other very homogenous ) group, considre not using any Mennonite connections!

3) Large group discussion regarding the connections that participants made.

  • What were the connections that you made?
  • How many others used the same connections?
  • Which connections tend to be available to more people (inclusive)?
  • Which connections tend to be available to only a few people, or only certain people (exclusive)?
  • Could you have done it without using any Mennonite connections?

4) Continue the discussion by thinking about the implications of how we make connections and with whom.

  • When we make a connection with someone, what else happens?
  • What kinds of assumptions do we make?
  • How do we respond differently to a person with whom we’ve made/found a connection than to someone with whom we have not made a connection even though our actual relationship with both may be the same?

Positive examples might include:

  • saves time
  • assumption of trustworthiness
  • breakdown of prejudice
  • skip levels in building the relationship
  • cut each other slack
  • give the benefit of doubt
  • willingness to do favors (I have a personal example  of folks we met in the Atlanta airport who knew Uncle Harold and Aunt Vernelle from Kansas when we were returning to the states after several years in India. I’m sure, they would have helped us/loaned money, etc., if we had lost a wallet or something. Share a personal example of when making a connection made a difference in a difficult situation.)
  • willingness to go out of our way to help
  • feel comfortable with someone we don’t really know

Negative examples might include:

  • favoritism
  • reinforcing prejudices/stereotypes
  • shutting others out
  • hurting others
  • blinding ourselves to other connections we could make
  • vulnerable to abuse

5) What can we do differently?

  • Understand that everyone finds ways to make connections
  • Acknowledge what’s happening when we make connections based on ethnic, education, religious, social, financial, etc. similarities
  • The Strength of Weak Ties (an explanation of the theory of connectedness)
  • Six Degrees of Lois Wiesberg (an example of a person with tons of weak ties from the book, The Tipping Point)

6) Take the best of what happens and find ways to make it happen with other people in ways that feel welcoming to them.

  • Assume the best of others
  • Ask yourself, “Would I be willing to do _____ for someone I know”?  why wouldn’t I be willing to do _____ for someone with whom I don’t have a connection/weak tie?”
  • Be willing to be a “weak tie” for someone outside your usual group

7) What passages/examples in the Bible challenge us to be “weak ties” or connections for others?

  • Proverbs 24:11 When you see a man being dragged to be killed, go to his rescue and save those being hurried away to their death. If you say, ‘But I do not know this man’, God, who fixes a standard for the heart, will take note. God who watches you – be sure he will know; he will requite every man for what he does.
  • Others?
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