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.

New to LessWrong?

New Comment
18 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:53 AM

I was hoping it would say: "Schelling Day is celebrated every year, on the obvious date." and leave it at that.

I attended this event and would like to publish a review.

It was probably the best thing our meetup has ever done. I kept thinking, "I don't want to wait a year for this to happen again." I am so glad ModusPonies made it happen.

These are people that I hang out with several times a month but know relatively little about. To hear other sides of them - histories that shaped them, fears, goals - made them feel much more like real people. It makes me want to know more. I'm excited to see them again.

There were a few new or nearly-new attenders - I imagine it was a bit strange for them, but they seemed to enjoy it. I expect those of us who knew each other better got more out of it.

I think it took about 90 minutes plus potluck, which felt like a good amount of time. Having 5-minute breaks was good to allow people to check on food in the oven, go to the bathroom, or just break the intensity.

Some things I might change: after people speak, especially on emotional topics, it feels weird not to have some way to acknowledge that. I wanted a way to say "thank you" or "I hear you" or "I honor your experience." In the Quaker environment that I'm used to, this would be done through a bit of silence after each person speaks. At the end of something like this, Quakers would get up and stand for a minute holding hands in a circle (which would probably feel icky to some LW people.) I'm not sure how best to end the whole thing, but I do think having a silent pause after each speaker would improve it.

I also think it might be useful to specify what happens with the information that is shared. Is confidentiality required? Are there things that people are willing to speak about during the ritual itself, but don't really want to discuss afterwards at dinner?

It's awkward and disruptive when people come in late to things like this. Maybe we needed a sign on the door saying, "If you arrive late, please wait until a pause between speakers before coming in and finding a seat."

The suggested topics were Joys, Confessions, Struggles, Hopes, and Other. A lot of people shared History as well, so I think next time we could add that. Also, Confessions/Struggles seemed to be mostly the same thing.

The amount of ritual-ness felt just about right. The talking was the important part, and the food was kind of extra - afterwards, people mostly just ate the chocolate and raspberries, so maybe we just need to pick foods that go together better. Having a potluck afterwards was definitely good, as it gave people a reason to stay and talk.

Glad this went well!

I think you have a good pattern going here when you classify things as "things you'd say to a..." Maybe, outside of the ritual itself, people could volunteer to be one of those positions for others without those services. Like, the Moombah would be the guy that listens to the things you'd say to a priest, without being a priest. He would listen under an oath of secrecy, to anyone who wanted to confess something. The High Glombix would listen to all the things you'd say to a therapist, without being a therapist, again under secrecy. The Vemerev would listen to all the things you're afraid to tell your friends about yourself, without judging you. It would be an accepted support group without relying on the traditional avenues, and it would also serve the purpose of getting you used to evaluating yourself and to verbally admitting your problems.

I like it! Although the preferred title would probably be Confessor.

There's a bit of a conflict between what you want to talk about vs. what snacks you want to eat.

Yes. I tried to come up with clever thematic snacks and failed. If anyone has suggestions, I would be grateful.

So, there's both a sanitation issue (are you moving the snacks with your hands? Are you spending time picking a particular variety out of bowl one to put in bowl two?) and a preference issue; why not just have the snacks in whatever original containers, and have people move some snacks of their choice from the original container to the bowl with each sharing?


This seems fun but I'd worry about the food choice...I'm not sure how many others think so but I feel like chocolate is just much more delicious to me than the other options so there might be more struggle confessions than anything else if this is not dealt with somehow...

Or maybe that is intentional since that kind of thing is so much more uncomfortable to say? That makes sense...

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

So, Schelling Day is the day before Tax Day (in the U.S.)?

Playing goofy theater games can also be a good way to bond with people.

Sounds like a fun ritual. Makes me wish I were in Boston so I could attend.

Does the Boston group ever meet on a day other than Sunday?

When we meet as The Boston Chapter Of LessWrong, that's always been on Sundays so far, and I don't expect it to change. When we meet as a bunch of awesome folks who want to spend time with their friends, that's been on whatever day. PM me if you want to get in on that.

I'll actually be in striking distance of Boston for Schelling Day...but too busy to do anything about it.

Related: I make a point of observing Pi Day and Tau Day each year, usually by eating pie. Tech and gaming geeks already converge on these; they seem like good candidates for rationalist holidays as well.

Meh. What's the point? (the 14th, I guess)