how to change the world

"You're not like us"

When a man is down, "Down with him!"
— Cervantes

By John-Paul Flintoff

I was playing the Rejection Game recently. (Four players on stage. One must be socially rejected by the others. It mustn’t be you.) At one point, one of the players referred to another as being “the only blonde” in the group.

For a fraction of a second, this statement had the powerful effect of isolating the blonde man. He looked considerably weakened, and very vulnerable to being rejected.

It’s important to emphasize that this had nothing to do with being blonde, as such. It would have been just as isolating to be the only man, or woman, or Asian, or person in a tie, or person not using a wheelchair. Any point of difference will do.

What made the man vulnerable was that this characteristic was stated out loud: he was just as blonde beforehand, but this didn’t matter till the words were spoken, for the whole group to hear. And as soon as they were out, everybody knew what they meant: “You’re not like us.”

Interestingly, a third player noticed this effect, and instantly came in to “save” the blonde man by saying that she had once been blonde too. In saying that, she brought him back into the game. I watched him settle, visibly more comfortable in his seat.

Strategically, in playing the Rejection Game, the woman had made a big mistake. (The point is to reject somebody, not save people who are vulnerable to rejection!) But as a human being, she was doing something lovely.

Can you think of a time when somebody has said something about you that isolated you from the rest of the group? Of course you can! But can you (which is much harder) remember a time when you have done that to somebody else?


The Rejection Game was devised by Keith Johnstone, who taught me to play it with (among others) Steve Chapman. We’re making a film about it

Posted: February 25, 2015