Welcome to My Hypersensitivity Training Workshop
By Bryan Caplan
In 1849 the British actor Charles Maccready started a riot by saying Americans were vulgar. A mob stormed the Astor Place Opera House, where Maccready was playing Macbeth, police opened fire, and 22 rioters were killed.
–New York (Eyewitness Travel Guides)
Hypersensitivity is a grave social ill. It leads to needless conflict, lingering fear, suppression of important truths, and even, as the Astor Place Riot shows, violence and death. Learning from the success of sensitivity training, I suggest we combat hypersensitivity with Hypersensitivity Training Workshops. Small groups of students or co-workers, under the guidance of a certified Hypersensitivity Coordinator, must come together to explore the dangers of hypersensitivity. This evil will always be with us, but by raising awareness we can hopefully make the problem more manageable.
Hypersensitivity Training is still in its infancy. At the moment, I’m the world’s only certified Hypersensitivity Training Coordinator, and even my experience is limited. But I here propose the following exercises to start a dialog about proper program design.
Exercise #1: The Wall of Hypersensitivity. Find a partner. You start talking. His job is to take visceral offense at everything you say. After five minutes, reverse roles. Then we have a class discussion about how your partner’s hypersensitivity made you feel.
Exercise #2: In General. Write down five groups that you identify with, then find a partner and swap lists. Take turns going down the list telling each other, “In general, group X is Y.” Y can be anything you sincerely believe.
Exercise #3: An Awkward Moment. Stand before the group and tells a story about a time you inadvertently gave offense. After each story, the group chants, “It was no big deal!”
Exercise #4: Traitor. Pick one of your group identities from Exercise #2. Stand before the group and share a negative generalization about your group that you secretly agree with. The Coordinator then asks for a show of hands to see how many people accept your negative generalization. One by one, everyone who raised his hand gives you a sheepish grin.
Exercise #5: Not Like the Others. Pick a partner and discuss your lives for five minutes. Then take turns telling each other, “Most people like you are X, but you’re different.”
Exercise #6: Pronoun Purgatory. Each attendee writes a paragraph using at least ten traditional gendered pronouns. Pass your paragraph to the person on your right. Then stand before the group and read your neighbor’s paragraph aloud, replacing the gendered language with “he or she,” “his or hers”, etc. Anytime you fail to correctly revise the original paragraph, the Coordinator interrupts you and asks the whole class to make faux enraged faces at you.
Exercise #7: Tone It Down. Get before the group and share something you heard that deeply offended you. The Coordinator then calls upon attendees to “tone it down” – to marginally rephrase or qualify the original offensive statement. Once the revised version no longer offends you, sit down and give the next person his turn.
If you’ve got other exercises, please share them in the comments. If they’re good enough, I’ll fast track you for Hypersensitivity Training Coordinator certification. But remember: The point of the exercise should never be to give offense, but rather to discourage the inappropriate taking of offense.