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What Color is that Shirt?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 07/02/2018

Bouchard camo shirt The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101 - Volume IX: UNDAMMING THE ICE", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

(Great appreciation to the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College CJ 101 “Introduction to Corrections” class in the Fall of 2017 for helping me inaugurate this icebreaker.)
It is safe to say that almost all of us are guilty of rigid thinking. No matter how understanding and unbiased a person claims to be, there is certainly some hot topic button. Tolerance can be touted as a virtue, certainly, but in practice it can be fleeting.

Of course, a firm decision with no ambiguity is warranted at times. For example, an assault requires a reaction, not lengthy inquiry. Furthermore, if someone is scaling the fence, there is no time for indecision. The response is without question: Stop the escape!

To illustrate the differences between the absolute and nebulous truths, I arrived in my CJ 101 class in a winter grey camouflage shirt. I also projected the image of the fabric on the screen. “What color is this shirt?” I asked the class. There were many answers. As they replied, I gave no sign nor sound of acceptance. Thus, the answers continued. Some said green. Some said grey. Some said white and others replied that the shirt is black.

I said that it is in the eyes of the beholder.

I told the students that this fabric is a representation of the truth. The truth never appears the same to everyone. For someone, it could be absolute – a black or white. Others see more subtlety in various shades of grey. Not everyone will always see various shades of grey. It all depends on the circumstances.

Here is an example: Years ago, while in Florida, I had a discussion about World War II with a veteran who served in the European theater. He fixed me with an unwavering glare and told me that he thinks Winston Churchill was the worst war criminal ever. I regarded Churchill as the key figure who stood alone against aggression from the Axis. The differences lay in our perspectives. I was born in past-Word War II America. My conversation partner served in the Wehrmacht on the side of the Axis.

I gave the example of the strict rules of photocopying documents in the prison law library. Sometimes, prisoners who want photocopies look only to the line in policy that says the service will be available. Beyond that in policy are written the many limitations of the services. In some cases, those who adhere to those well-spelled out rules are accused of rigid thinking and abuse of authority by those who insist they are guaranteed copies of anything they want and for free. Again, it is all in the perspective.

Students were asked some issues or examples of rigid thinking. They offered these:
  • Nationalism
  • Racism
  • Disclosure of medical information
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Classism
  • Ethnicism
  • Sports affiliation
  • Sexism
The camouflage grey shirt is more than a prop. It is a great way to introduce the many nuances of any issue. How fitting that something that is meant to conceal can actually illustrate hidden truths.

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