I did “power” circle recently, I took on a deeply personal and emotional issue. A Circle of Understanding was held, no intention to change anyones stance, but to create more understanding. To bring people together to hear the other side of the issue. The topic was gay marriage. After some dialouge in the campus newspaper, it was offered to bring people together, in a Circle.
I made a few ‘rookie’ mistakes. I did a few things I “train” other people NOT to do. I learned a great deal with the intensity of this issue. I would not recommend you jump into a subject like this, without serious training. I want to share with you my issues, and the solutions. Then I’ll highlight things I did like a ‘pro’. : )
Issue: Meeting Space
I should have scouted out my site. I made assumptions that the person scheduling the room, would know it should be private. Instead, we were in a fishbowl of glass. It was like the noise outside was being pumped in to our room. Foot traffic going by made me think more people were coming in, when they were just walking by. I had anxiety before the Circle, arriving to see the room did not have us on the schedule and it was locked. Forcing me to call contacts, beg security to unlock the door.
Solution: Set up the area for the best success. You might not have alot of choices in a school setting, but you can make the effort. Communicate if someone is scheduling your Circle site. Arrive early, you may need to find a plan B, and looking back, that would have been a better option.
Issue: Late arrivals
I can include people who are a few minutes late. An hour? I felt disrupted when two new people joined our Circle, missing out on the explanation, the values, the committment the getting acquainted and building relationships round. It was faced with my inclusive value. I asked the rest of the Circle, everyone “ok?”.
Solution: Using my “I’m sorry we’ve started sign”. We hang this sign or some version of it on the door when we start Victim Impact Panels and Underage Consumption Panels. I was somewhat unsure of the number of people who would attend. I did however, make the information about Circles abundantly clear. The start time was consistently posted as 6 pm, 20 other people made it at that time. Next time, I’ll use the sign.
If you think of a continuum and one side is Restorative Justice and the other Talking Circle – this particular Circle was more on the Talking Circle side. I knew I had participants that all felt like victims. It was a deeply emotional Circle, I was exhausted, just wrung out. Tense, yet hopeful. Both sides spoke, actually many sides spoke. Issues of Christianity, sin, rights, freedoms, hate crimes, discrimination, we heard them all. Confusion, lots of confusion for the other points of view. All in all, what happened at the end, was that people with totally different perspectives listened to each other. I can’t guarantee how everyone processed it afterwards. I think one or two might have felt personally attacked, I’m sorry for that, it’s my perspective, some might think that was deserved, I’m not so sure.
What I did well:
-pulled in a co-keeper to help out.
-promoted as much preparing for participants as possible.
-help a space of neutrality and Circle minded presence.
-trusted the process.
-learned from the experience, what I did well, what I would do different. It was a powerful one, I sat thinking and contemplating some of the stories for days. I did tell my board I have proved my ‘circlekeeper courage’ by doing this one.
-good luck with your Circles, Kris