heart exercise for childen and war


by Reza

Recently a student told me about an ethnographic research project which was undertaken to study children’s ideas about war. The children were making drawings to elicit responses. For ethical reasons they made sure that there were not any children in the focus group, who had actually been traumatized by war. The same day I came across this picture by Iranian photographer Reza – more about him via Webistan Photo Agency. Apparently he has just released a new book Reza War + Peace: A Photographer’s Journey (‘a 30-year retrospective of his work, this remarkable photographer chronicles his travels to places of conflict through exquisite images that pair turmoil with hope, joy with despair.’)

In any case, I admire this image. And I could see this as a fertile starting point both for classroom discussion or creative writing exercises about children and war. Because what most people around me, including myself know about war, we know through media, or mediated through somebody. Unless we actually have experienced war as those childen excluded from the survey mentioned above. Or probably those boys in the picture. What I would really like to know is what those children think and feel. 

In any case for those of us privileged enough to be able to reflect about this in the safe space of some class or seminar room, here is an exercise which could go with this image, taken from VisualSpeak. The exercise is called “Heart Image” Exercise, because it is based on an image of a constricted heart, but it may be carried out with any image, depending where you want to go. 

Time needed: 5-7 Minutes (Break up large groups to maximize time)

The Heart image exercise involves the following steps:

1. Distribute a copy of the xxx  image to each person.

2. Ask each participant to spend 1-2 minutes writing a response to the question, “What does this image mean to me?”

3. Have each participant read his/her response to the group.

4. Engage the participants in a conversation about what they learned.

Questions you may want to ask are:

• What similarities and differences did you notice among the responses?

• Was there anything interesting or surprising in the responses?

• Do you have any new insights about anyone in the group?

• Can you imagine how someone’s life experiences could influence their perception of an image? How?

• Can you make any connections as to how you responded and your own life?

VisualSpeak say: This exercise “is applicable to … anywhere you want to lead a conversation on having different perspectives. The varied responses participants will give during this exercise will illustrate why it’s important not to interpret meaning for other people.”

What would be yours?

2 Responses to “heart exercise for childen and war”

  1. Tom Tiernan Says:

    Hi Sigrid

    “The exercise is called “Heart Image” Exercise, because it is based on an image of a constricted heart”

    Is it a constricted heart? :>) We purposely designed the image so that it would be open to interpretation. And yes, a number of people do say it is a constricted heart, although there are a number of other interpretations. As a follow-up question, we might ask the person – why do you think the heart is constricted, joyful, bound up or whatever other way they have described it to further the conversation.

    For the student doing ethnographic research project of children’s ideas about war, I would be very concerned about how they define war. If they are doing research with children who live or have lived in an inner city, then there is a chance that the children may have experienced a war-like environment, which could trigger those experiences. The other possibility is a child who has experienced violence, whether involving guns or not, could be triggered by this kind of questioning. Hopefully the researchers have given thought to these possibilities.

    I have mixed feelings about using the “Gun 2″ as a conversation starter. We have found through our research and testing that literal images like this, tend not to increase the level of in-depth conversation. It seems too literal but like using any photos for these kinds of purposes, it should be tested on a cross section of people.

    Photographs are an amazing tool for facilitating useful conversations. We think so highly of the idea that we started a company based on the concept.

    Interesting blog.


    Tom Tiernan
    VisualsSpeak LLC

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