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Date: 01/01/2014
  • Practices
  • Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes
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Widening Circles or Four Voices

from chapter 8 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


Time: About 60 minutes


Activists want to be able to express their views about an issue clearly, even passionately. At the same time, for their own understanding and skillfulness, they want to see differing and opposing perspectives on this issue. This favourite exercise of ours helps us do both. And in the process it loosens the grip of self-righteousness and opens the mind to progressively larger contexts and to widening circles of identity.


I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world
I may not complete this last one
But I give myself to it.

I circle around God, the primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years.
And still I don’t know: am I a falcon, 
a storm, or a great song. 

~Rainer Maria Rilke



Widening Circles from Work That Reconnects on Vimeo.



People sit in groups of three or four. Ask them each to choose a particular issue or situation that concerns them. After a minute of silence, invite them to take turns speaking about their issue. Each person will speak to their issue from four perspectives, while the others in the group listen.

  1. from their own point of view, including their feelings about the issue;
  2. from the perspective of a person who holds opposing views on this issue, introducing themselves and speaking as this person, using the pronoun “I”;
  3. from the viewpoint of a nonhuman being that is affected by that particular situation;
  4. and lastly, in the voice of a future human whose life is affected by the choices made now on this issue.

After describing these four perspectives at the outset, the guide provides cues for each perspective as each speaker’s turn unfolds, reminding them to always speak in the first person. Allow some two to three minutes for each perspective, perhaps a little longer for the first. People find it helpful and enjoyable to stand up and turn around before moving on to the next voice. 

To speak on behalf of another, and identify even briefly with that being’s experience and perspective, is an act of moral imagination. It is not difficult to do: as children we knew how to “play-act.”  Use an uncharged, almost casual tone in your instructions; you are not asking people to channel or be omniscient, but simply to imagine another point of view. Allow some silence as they choose for whom they will speak, and imaginatively enter that other’s experience, so they can respect it and not perform a caricature of it. It is a brave and generous act to make room in your mind for another’s experience and to lend them your voice; let the participants appreciate that generosity in themselves and each other.

Allow time at the end for people to share in their small groups what they felt and learned. 


Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown