Finding Hell in the Audience Poll

By Laura Bergells on

“Hell is other people” is a phrase from one of my favorite plays, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. A classic existential line, I like to think that it means that other people make you self-conscious.

Self-examination can be brutal. Hellish.

When it comes to our own transgressions, we don’t like to acknowledge them privately. And we certainly don’t want to discuss them publicly.

No ExitPhoto Credit: Newsbie Pix

That’s why I’ve learned to pick my words carefully when polling an audience about bad behaviors. Imagine asking a business audience:

“How many people here have been fired for something they’ve posted on Facebook?”

No hands go up. Now, imagine re-phrasing the question:

“How many people KNOW OF SOMEONE who has been fired for something they’ve posted on Facebook?”

Hands shoot up. Knowing looks are exchanged. “I know a guy who…” stories are shared.

We’re eager to gossip, to gleefully tell cautionary stories about the sins of other people. Anything to take the heat off of ourselves. If your intention is to stimulate audience discussion in a classroom or business setting, ask people to think of others… never themselves.

Hell, after all, is other people.