Schelling Day: A Rationalist Holiday

by ModusPonies3 min read27th Mar 201318 comments



The Big Idea

—Holidays are awesome.
—Getting to know people is awesome.
—Schelling Day is a holiday about getting to know people.
—The Boston group will celebrate Schelling day.
—Hopefully other cities will too.

Why Are We Doing This?

Getting to know people—really, truly getting to know people—is hard. You have to spend a huge amount of time with them, of course, but that’s the easy part. Spending time with people is fun! The challenging part is opening yourself up. Sharing your fondest hopes and deepest fears is a powerful way to make connections, but exposing your soul like that terrifying. Worse, it’s awkward. There’s no socially appropriate time to bring up stuff like that. I’ve talked to a bunch of people who wish there were more opportunities for that sort of sharing, but initiating it is risky. Even when everything works out beautifully, getting it started feels stressful and not-fun.

What if we could set aside a time where sharing like that is not merely accepted, but expected? Historically, this doesn’t seem too hard to do. As soon as people are in a context where everyone agrees that sharing is normal (e.g. an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or a conversation with a therapist), the stigma and self-consciousness don’t hold people back nearly as much.

All we need is an arbitrary time when we agree to change the social rules, and we’re set! In other words, we need a Schelling point. April 14th, the birthday of Thomas Schelling, is as good a time as any.

I’m creating a ritual around this, for two reasons. First, an established structure makes it easier to do something that feels difficult or strange. Second, in my experience, adding ritual to powerful, true statements makes them even more powerful.

When Are We Doing This?

Schelling Day is April 14th, which is a Sunday this year. The Boston group will be holding our celebration at 2:30. The ritual will begin sharply at 2:45, so please be on time.

Please RSVP to the meetup if you’re coming. We’re allowed to have up to 20 people in the space, and we’ll be using the Meetup site to track this. It’s fine if you RSVP at 2:00 on the day of the event, so long as you don’t put us above the limit. If for some reason you don’t want your RSVP to be public, PM me and I’ll reserve you a spot anonymously.

There will be a potluck dinner. Everyone who brings a dish gets two Rationality Points.

What Are We Doing?

Everyone sits in a semicircle. At the focal point are two tables. On the first table are five small bowls of delicious snacks. Eating the delicious snacks at this stage is VERBOTEN. On the second table is 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 MAY 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 1-5 minutes* to tell the group about one of your secret Joys, Struggles, Hopes, Confessions, or Something Else Important, as described below. Then scoop some food from the appropriate bowl and put it into the larger bowl.

Struggles (Chocolate):
Flaws, interpersonal drama, professional challenges, stuff you’d say to a therapist

Joys (Raspberries):
Passions, guilty pleasures, “I love you guys” speeches

Confessions (Pretzels):
Burdens, personal secrets, things you’re tired of hiding, stuff you’d say to a priest

Hopes (Raisins):
Goals, wishes, deepest desires, crazy schemes

Something Else (Trail mix):
Because trying to make an exhaustive list would be silly.

After your speak, 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, take five minutes* to stretch, then do the same thing again.

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.

Then What?

We’ll pass around the bowl of snacks we’ve assembled from our accumulated revelations until everything is eaten.

Depending on the timing, the emotional state, and our patience, we might or might not have another round or two.

After that, dinner! The rest of the time will be for eating and socializing. We’ll break into smaller groups and follow up on the things we said during the ritual. Asking questions about what someone said is actively encouraged! (There is no obligation to answer. “I would prefer not to talk about that” is a completely acceptable response.) Err on the side of asking an awkward question; if you’re over the line, the other person will simply decline to answer, and no harm done. Judging people, or explaining why their revelations were wrong, is of course VERBOTEN—unless someone specifically asks for feedback, in which case be honest but don’t be a jerk. We’ll get the potluck dishes people brought, and we’ll eat, drink, and be merry.

*I’ll be using a timer! I don’t want to be a jerk, but I want to keep things moving.

UPDATE: My review of the event is here.