I have been in lots and lots of Restorative Justice Circles. They work best and feel the most natural when all of the concepts are being followed by everyone.
Once in awhile you a person in the Circle, who just does not percieve themselves as not following the concepts. They are great listeners and excellent “reflectors”. They can communicate so much, in this “under the radar”, indirect way. They might simply give a “mMMm” that really means: I so agree with what you are say, oh please say more!
A “HmmMmm” that says: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that before! Now that you said it, I understand.
I have found the mmHmm’ers are few and far between. It might be a and quiet, “yep” or a “uh-huh”. These people are good, they slide these in at the end of a sentance. They don’t interupt the person, necessarily and it hardly appears they distrupt the process. For me, it is disruptive.
When you speak (or hum) when you are not holding the talking piece, you are disrespecting the speaker, everyone else in Circle and the process itself. That may sound harsh, but let me explain. (I do realize I am judging the person for judging!)
It disrepects the speaker, because it takes from their turn. Part of the Circle concept that works, is taking turns and honoring the talking piece. That means all noises. It means putting “we” ahead of “me”. When you think of it, isn’t it better to give the entire Circle uninterupted opportunity to listen, that to voice out your agreements?
When you mMhmm in Circle, you are breaking the concentration of others trying to listen. What about the one person who got all the uh-huh’s and the person that didn’t? The process gets disrespected because you have violated the non-judgemental intention of the Circle.
You cannot hear with static in the background. Judgement has no place in Circle, it is static in the background. Having a space to speak without judgement is the greatest gift we can give someone. I believe non-judgemental listening says to the other: I see you, I trust you enough to listen to you, JUST as a witness to you. Non-judgmental listening encourages the other person to be their best selves. Student don’t have to show off or one up each other in a Circle because each is being taken in and accepted for who they are.
When we judge people for the worse, we know we are judging. When you judge the person in a manner of support, agreement, validation you are judging them for the better and we don’t always think of that as being judgemental.
What if someone speaking was full of it! What if they talked long enough they would recognize they were full of it? All that mmHmm, and uh-huh wouldn’t give the person space to figure it out! They’s never explore another option!
We are taught to care. Circles are about compassion. We want to affirm, assure and support people. We need to remember that our silence is a good tool for that as well.
I’ve learned to address alot of unCircle-like behavior without calling out one person, or shaming in anyway. I find it is best to focus on what you want from people rather than what you don’t want. I’ll be playing a humming game or something next time I have one of my known “affirmers” in the Circle! I believe the best path to change is when a person makes a choice for themselves, I just need to show where choices are. If you give people the choice of a productive Circle and being part of a greater good, they usually make that choice. Can I get a strong UH-HUH here please?