Abigail's Tale is a story that shows how people view the world from different perspectives, have different values and reach different conclusions based on the same information.
- 1 pen and 1 piece of paper per participant
- they need to sort a few names so it can also be done on their cellphones
Aims of the tool
When mixing with people from different cultures we should be aware that all their actions, values and attitudes are not necessarily defined by their culture. With this exercise you can show how similar people think differently, how they have different moral values and different ways of seeing reality.
Description of the tool
Abigail’s Tale is a story that shows how people view the world from different perspectives, have different values and reach different conclusions out of the same information.
- Give them a printed version of the story or tell the story (maybe drawing the characters on a flipchart).
- Give them 3’ to establish the guilty parties from the guiltiest to the less guilty.
- (Optional) Split them in pairs and give them 5’ to make the list (guiltiest to less guilty).
- Put them in groups of 5 with the same goal (a common list). (15-25’)
- Do a group discussion (15’)
- Debrief (15’)
- Modify the story to have unisex names and ask at the end what would happen if that character was a woman (or a man); e.g.: Sinbad could be a woman and Abigail a boy. Or they could be gay.
- Modify the story to say “Abigail loved Tom” (instead of “they were in love”) and ask the question: “what would you say if Abigail was actually a stalker?” <– we don’t always have all the information and just reading some words on paper doesn’t mean we have the whole picture
Once upon a time there was a pretty girl called Abigail who lived in a house with her mother. Everyday she would walk across her town, over the only bridge crossing the river to see her boyfriend, Tom. Abi thought Tom was lovely! She would skip and sing on her way to see her boyfriend, and they were very much in love.
Of course Tom also thought Abi was lovely. He too would cross the town and the only bridge across the river to go and see Abi, but he didn’t skip and sing, at least when the other boys were looking he didn’t!
They were so in love and would walk around holding hands to show everyone how much they loved each other. Aww
One night a great storm flooded the river and swept away the bridge, the only bridge so the next morning they could only stand on opposite banks of the river and wave to each other, both very sad that they couldn’t hold hands.
Abigail cried. She cried and cried and cried and wanted to see her Tom, but it would be months before a new bridge would be built, and there was no other way to cross the river. Then after a few days Abigail saw a little rowing boat tied up on the river, and went to speak to the man who owned it.
“Please” Abi begged “Please row me across the river so I can see my Tom”. The man who owned the boat was called Sinbad. Not many people spoke to him, and very little was known about him. Sinbad thought about Abigail’s problem and offered to help. “I will row you across the river” Sinbad said, and Abi smiled, but she was happy to quickly. Sinbad continued “I will row you across the river, if you sleep with me.”
Abigail’s smile turned into a frightful scream and she ran off crying. She couldn’t decide what to do. She wanted to see Tom so badly, but didn’t want to sleep with Sinbad. She felt torn between seeing her boyfriend and cheating on him with Sinbad, and she felt she needed to ask someone for advice, so sat down with mother and explained the whole story.
Abigail’s mother listened to her story and when Abi had finished she looked at her mother, waiting for her advice. “well” her mother started “you need to sort this one out for yourself”. Abigail’s mother offered no advice as she wanted Abi to make the decision for herself.
Abi was now more confused than ever and sat in her park thinking over her options. She decided she wanted to see Tom more than ever… he would know what to do, so she jumped up and went to Sinbad.
After she slept with him, Sinbad kept his word and took her on his boat across the river. Abi ran as soon as she arrived on shore to Tom. Tears running her face, she banged on his door and he was very shocked to see Abi, and to see that she was so upset. Abi explained everything that happened to her, and when she told Tom she had to sleep with Sinbad to see her, he went crazy.
“WHAT!” he shouted “you cheated on me… with Sinbad!” Abi tried to explain why she did it, but Tom was so angry he slammed the door shut and didn’t want to speak to Abi again.
Abi cried some more, and now was on the wrong side of the river to ask her mother for advice, but she knew where Tom’s best friend, Bob, lived.
She went around to Bob’s house and explained everything to him. Bob let her into his house and gave her a nice cup of tea to try and help things. As Abi explained what had happened today, Bob was disgusted with how Tom had acted. So disgusted in fact that he went around to Toms house and beat him up for treating Abi so badly.
And this is where our story ends.
List the characters (Abi, Abigail’s Mother, Tom, Bob and Sinbad) in order of who you think acted the worst, with the worst behaved character at the bottom of your list, and the best behaved character at the top of the list. Do not talk to anyone when you are creating your list.
Pair up with someone of the other sex and discuss the differences and similarities of your lists. Attempt to compromise and create a new list that you both agree on.
As a group discuss your new lists and start towards trying to work out a list for the group. This should have a time limit as it is highly unlikely a group of 5+ people will come to a compromise.
Sometimes not giving them the printed version helps as they presume things instead of checking with their group.
You need to close the game properly or the participants will continue debating who is the guiltiest after.
Debriefing the game
Things you can do/observe:
- Ask lateral thinking questions like “would you reorder your list if Abigail was 13? How?”
- Sorting by Europe’s legal system we get: Bob beating Tom (no mitigating circumstances), Tom hitting Abigail (mitigating circumstances) and Sinbad (economic monopoly).
- Fun fact: In Bulgaria one participant said Sinbad was the best business man ever. He found a need and offered fair services to fill the need. All demonstrated by the fact that Abigail accepted his offer.
- When splitting them into pairs you can try pairs of different sex
- In a training touching political subjects you can consider the story as a metaphor of how EU countries try to reach a common ground (though they have different values)
- Different views/perspectives to be explored: culture, family ties, violence, friendship, loyalty, attitudes towards sexual activities
- Some people will interpret the “Bob left with Abigail” part as if to mean that Abigail entered a relationship with Bob (but they could have just gone out for a drink). Interpretations vs facts.
Culture is usually based on nationality but as this exercise shows, individuals within a culture all have separate thoughts and varying values on Family ties, the acceptance of violence, friendship, loyalty and attitudes towards sexual activities.
When mixing with people from different cultures we should be aware that all their actions, values and attitudes are not necessarily purely from their national culture.
We are always looking through our own “cultural glasses” for example as a Brit I will always see things through my “British Glasses”, seeing things like long queues at the bus stop as a norm. where as someone with a different cultural background can see this as weird and over polite. We both are looking at the same activity, the same queue and the same context, but we see it through our cultural glasses and compare it to our own culture, what we consider “normal”!