Schelling Day is a holiday about getting to know the people in your community that we created and celebrated in 2013. By popular request, I've revised the procedure to take into account what we learned last year. I'm aware of plans to hold Schelling Day in Boston, New York, and San Francisco on April 16. (Not 14, because of the conflict with Passover, which is also a major community event for many people.) I'd love to know of any additional celebrations that you guys hold.

Last year's event played a part in the Boston group’s development into a closer and more caring community. Sharing the things you want to share, and receiving compassion and understanding from the group, turns out to be extremely powerful evidence that it’s safe to share important things with the group—and as it turns out, brains update if you give them good evidence.

Schelling Day

If necessary, split into groups of no more than 10-15 people. Each group gathers and sits in a circle. At the center is a table. On the table are four small bowls of delicious snacks. Eating the delicious snacks at this stage is VERBOTEN. There is also a single large, empty bowl.

Everyone will have a six-sided die.

Everyone will have a chance to speak, or to not speak. When it’s your turn, roll your die. Showing the result to others is VERBOTEN.

If your die shows a six, you MUST speak. If your die shows a one, you MUST NOT speak. Otherwise, you choose whether or not to speak. The die is to provide plausible deniability. Attempting to guess whether someone’s decision was forced by the die roll is VERBOTEN. 

If you speak, take up to five minutes[1] to tell the group something important about yourself. Then, choose at least one of the categories below that matches what you said. Scoop a small amount of the corresponding delicious snack from the small bowls into the central bowl. (If you want, you can use these categories for inspiration, but don’t let them restrict you from saying something that matters.)


Struggles (Chocolate):

Challenges, burdens, things you’re tired of hiding, etc.


Joys (Raspberries):

Passions, guilty pleasures, “I love you guys” speeches, etc.


Background (Grapes):

Who you are, where you came from, why you are the way you are, etc.


Other (Blueberries):

Because trying to make an exhaustive list would be silly.


People in the group now have an opportunity to empathize. This is not a time to offer suggestions or critique; this is a time to connect with another human’s emotions.[2]  The speaker can choose to agree with or to correct people’s perceptions, if they wish. Keep reactions brief and focused on the speaker’s experience. Try not to have more than 2-3 reactions per speaker.

After the group’s reactions, or after you choose not to speak, the person to your left rolls their die and the process repeats.

Once everyone has had a chance to speak or not, the round is over. Shake hands with the people on either side of you and take five minutes to stretch. Then do the same thing again, beginning across the circle from where the previous round started. (e.g., if there are ten people, then start with the person who spoke fifth or sixth last time.)

After that, take five minutes to stretch, then begin the BONUS ROUND.

The BONUS ROUND is like the first two rounds, with one exception. If you haven’t spoken yet, do not roll your die. You MUST speak.

When the BONUS ROUND finishes, pass around the bowl of snacks assembled from the accumulated revelations and eat them. As this is happening, people will talk about how they felt during the ritual and how they feel at this moment. Once people have shared their reactions, or once all the snacks are eaten, Schelling Day is over. There is one final group hug, and then everyone goes home.[3]

[1] The facilitator will use a timer. We’re not trying to be jerks, but we want to keep things moving.


[2] If you’re familiar with Nonviolent Communication (NVC), that will give you a sense of what to do here. Some templates you might use:

“When you said that [repetition of what they said] I imagined that you were [guessed feeling] because you want [guessed need].” E.g., “When you said that were struggling to make it, I imagined that you feel desperate because you want stability and security.”

“When you were talking, I noticed that [observation of what you noticed them do] and I sensed that you were [guessed feeling] because you long for [guessed need].” E.g., “When you were talking, I noticed that you were rocking slightly back and forth, and I sensed that you had a lot of contained frustration inside you. I imagine the frustration comes from that you want help and you aren't getting that, and it's contained maybe because you fear that lashing out will make things worse.”


[3] Hanging out after the hug is VERBOTEN—remember the peak-end rule! If you want to eat a meal together, you could do it before the event starts. (Potlucks are good, since people get to visibly contribute to the group.) If you absolutely must do something with the same people, then do it in a different location. Convince your System 1 that Schelling Day is over, and now you’re doing something else.

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10 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:39 AM

If your die shows a one, you MAY NOT speak

I suggest you change "MAY NOT" into "MUST NOT". The statement "you MAY NOT speak" could be misinterpreted to mean that you have the permission not to speak, which you do by default.

I note that your recommendation is RFC 2119 compliant.

I note you've dropped the 'potluck' portion from last year. Is the primary motivation for that the peak-end rule, increased portability, or something else?

It's because of the peak-end rule. Last year, Boston's potluck started out with us following up on what people had shared, and then drifted to our usual conversation topics. I think there are still good reasons to eat a meal together, and good reasons for such a meal to be a potluck, but I'd recommend doing so before the event. I'll edit that in to the post.

I think there are still good reasons to eat a meal together, and good reasons for such a meal to be a potluck, but I'd recommend doing so before the event.

This is what I expected, thanks!

We're planning on running one in Austin this year.

Apparently there already is another "Schelling Day" and it's in June. It is another Schelling and I'm not clear how he compares to Thomas Schelling esp. today. At least in Germany there is a Schelling society and a yearly Schlling day. I think you should know that just that you are not surprised by some misunderstanding due to it.

I'm much in favor of Thomas Schelling and like your holiday format. So cheers!

The Austin Schelling Day celebration was small- four of us eating dinner together and then sitting around a table, watching the sun set through the windows as we shared.

I felt it worked very well for its intended purpose, of bringing us closer together and helping people talk about things they otherwise wouldn't talk about. The attendees were the most regular attendees to the normal meetups, so I don't think it helped broaden the connections of the group much.

For our location, we met at majus's home; he's a software engineer near the end of his career, and his house is as nice as you would expect from that. I'm a graduate student, and so my apartment, where we host game nights, is also as nice as you would expect (that is to say, it isn't). I felt that having the location upgrade did make for a better experience.

It went much longer than I expected; I had estimated maybe an hour for dinner, and then about 5*3*n+15 minutes for the celebration. Dinner went more like an hour and a half (but part of that was we arrived a bit late, and then food needed another 20-30 minutes to be finished), and then we spent a bit less than 3 hours on the celebration itself- which translates to ~45 minutes of talking per person!

Part of this was that I put no effort into enforcing time limits, and I think the other part was that people felt that with a small group they could take as long as they wanted. With 4 people, the "there should be at most 2-3 reactions to each person's sharing" rule sort of turned into "everyone reacts to each person's sharing," and there seemed to be several instances of a person taking 2-4 minutes to share, then a 1 minute response, then a 30-60 second response to that response, then another response, response to that response, then the last response, a response to that, and then we moved on.

I made the mistake of washing the raspberries perhaps a little too vigorously, and they mostly disintegrated / looked terrible, but still tasted alright. I was expecting the snacks which didn't make it into the bowl to get eaten also- but, as it turns out, three 'scoops' of snacks per person (we added snacks of multiple types if it crossed multiple categories) turned out to be roughly the right amount at the end.

I had the same experience with my event, of it devolving into responses to responses. There were 9 of us though, so I felt really obligated to try to stop it.

Thank you very much for bringing this activity to attention! I've tried to run it on st.petersburg meetup and it was delighting. There were only three people present, but it still was very nice.