You have probably noticed when attending a spiritual workshop that the leader often starts with an exercise encouraging you to do some kind of self-assessment. This helps you focus on your intention in attending the session, and the sharing of comments afterwards helps the leader determine how best to proceed with a particular group.

When I have led gatherings to introduce the goals of the Practicing Democracy Project and the resources we have available, I like to start with an exercise using punctuation marks. I first did this myself at a talk given by Robert Chase of Intersections International at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California, where I live. When I told him that I'd like to adapt the exercise for our democracy work, he told me the idea of using the symbols came to him during a conversation with spiritual philosopher Sam Keen.

Perhaps this exercise appeals to me because I'm a writer and editor. I use punctuation carefully; it helps me give the right emphasis to what I want to say. Punctuation marks are also universal. We all use them all the time. They have meanings attached to them.

Here's the exercise. On a page of symbols (you can download a pdf here), circle the mark that most conveys "Who am I today." I usually give people a few minutes to do this and encourage them to make notes on why they made the choice.

Then put a square around the mark that most conveys "The State of American democracy today." Again, allow time for people to jot down some reasons.

Then share your choices. If the group is large, you might divide into groups of three so everyone has time to explain where they are coming from personally and in their feelings about the democracy. With a small gathering, the whole group probably can hear everybody's choices. Notice if people tend to choose the same marks and also if someone assigns an unusual meaning to a mark.

I've done this exercise many times now, and I'm surprised that each time I tend to choose different marks. So even if you are not at a workshop or in a group, you might try it and record your choices in your journal.

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