Restoratively engaging survivors, storytellers and community volunteers.

Restorative Justice operates by engagement of Victims-Offenders-Community.  The magic is in the mix of these stakeholders.  I believe the more congruent your program and work with these stakeholders is, the more you are modeling, teaching, coaching and living restoratively.  Using community volunteers beyond facilitators is very important.  The community voice is important to help both the victims and offenders feel supported and to increase their knowledge of how crime impacts the community.  Storytellers in Restorative Justice can be the survivor of crime, the support person of someone harmed, or someone directly impacted.  I have other posts on Restorative Justice Storytelling, here.  This blog post will provide some direct actions you can take to restoratively engage individuals in the work of Restorative Justice services and programs.

1. Live Circle Wisdom.  Value all your relationships, and maintain a place where you yourself are in a good way for your relationship with others.  This might mean self-care or spiritual practices that keep you centered to your best self.  As someone recently said to me, “walk the hot coals of our own lives”.  People decide if their relationship with you is ‘just’, they want to be treated fairly and with respect.  The standard is even higher for those in Restorative Justice, you want to show people how it works, by being that example.

2. Apply the approach constantly.  Utilize the power that Circles create, by applying the outcomes in this image, as the potential for each engagement with someone else.Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles

 

I was provided some feedback that I didn’t necessarily want to hear, but I needed to hear it and I’m glad that I did.  I see it now, that I could have lived the bullet points in this image.  I try to be mindful of these and do them consistently.

I messed up at a community forum, small groups brainstormed ideas on work of SCVRJP.  One group had identified the importance of people knowing about “forgiveness”.  I reacted, I sighed, whispered to a neighbor, saying “that’s not what restorative justice is really about”.  It wasn’t that I was wrong, but what I did was not necessary, it did not represent the ‘positive way of being’.  I didn’t include space for that person perspective or understanding.  It would have been just fine to let that pass without showing my feelings about it.  I didn’t realize people were watching me like that, until that feedback.  I realized the standard for those promoting this work is important to model.

3. Be an invisible gate-keeper.  All people have gifts and contributions, not all are ready for the intermingle and mix in Circle.  Find ways to include people and give them a role appropriate to their current level of restorative justice.  We once had someone in a volunteer orientation Circle, refuse to share anything about herself since she didn’t yet know everyone else.  A few rounds later, after people had opened up about why they were volunteering, she learned some were giving back after being given a 2nd chance drug court program.  When the talking piece came to her she scolded us saying “I didn’t know I would be with criminals!”  We assigned her data entry, so she could see evaluation form comments.  She also helped with a fundraising event.  I went back and checked in with the “criminals”, a word I avoid, using x-offender or the persons name.  Thankfully, it opened up a discussion about expecting that from community, and that is “a price paid when you break the law”.  I got to affirm the accountability of the person referenced and labeled.

4. Silently Mentor.  Prepare people for the anticipated and unanticipated possibilities in Circle.  We have a reflection round after storytellers.  Sometimes the emotions leave people wanting to escape or avoid those, so they themselves rationalize or minimize harmful behavior.  For example, after hearing from someone who killed someone after driving impaired, a reflection was offered “it’s not your fault, he got in the car with you”.  Coach people to listen with an understanding they don’t have to take everything to heart.  Have your radar on and your listening engaged to make sure everyone, from every angle of the Circle can feel supported.  You can check-in politely with people, offer ways they can reframe their sharing.  One volunteer told those at the Underage Consumption Circle, that “you drank to get drunk, your an alcoholic”, I later checked in, she really believed that.  Her life expereinces were limited and she thought that was the way things were.  I suggested that perhaps she not label others behavior, but speak from an experience of her own.  Strong feelings are welcome, they belong in Circle, people need to be able have healing through feeling, once labeled or judged, the opportunity gets smaller.  She understood the value of not labeling, given the opportunity to expresss and explain herself.

5. Honor preferences.  Listening to what is important and helpful and do things to show volunteers you care.  One volunteer is a smoker, and he has anxiety before sharing his story.  The storytelling isn’t until an hour or more into the Circle.  His pre-speech jitters would usually be to rest with a cigarette, that outlet is not possible, we always start and complete our Circles together.  He likes to chew on small suckers, Dum-Dums to stay calm.  Our candy jar hasn’t been without the little candy, since we learned this.  One of our welcoming office behaviors is to immediately offer a bottle of water or cup of coffee.  A new volunteer says they like tea, so we stock tea.  Another loved a new coffee flavor, so we have that coffee on hand.  The little things make a big difference.  Show people they are respected, that they belong and that they are important to your program and work.

 

In what ways to you honor volunteers or support survivors?

Restorative Justice: holding people accountable, holding them with heart, 3 steps.

St Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program (scvrjp), has specialized in Restorative Justice Circles.  Link here to see session descriptions.  Each Circle is attended by 4-5 volunteers, a keeper, a storyteller and few community mentors to help support the process.  We spend time training our volunteers in the philosophy and approach of Restorative Justice, we offer two-day Circle Trainings twice a year at no charge to volunteers.  If you haven’t volunteered for 6 months, we require a refresher “orientation”.  We offer volunteer in-service sessions with hopes our new and experienced volunteers can build relationships and deepen skills.

These strategies are built-in to ensure we are consistently reminding people of the skills of heart.  We work with deep consideration of the heart and brain.  People will be in one of two brain modes “approach” or “avoid” as a program supervisor, my job is to make sure our staff, our volunteers, our clients area all feeling in a place of engaging.  Since I can’t be everywhere and with everyone (we average a dozen sessions a month) it is crucial our climate and culture is shared and duplicated by everyone.  I recognize this is asking a great deal of people, and these 3 steps are useful in holding others in your heart.

1) Judge None.  You never know someone’s story.  Our brain makes categories of information, to quickly file things.  These categories help and hurt us.  It hurts when we judge others.  You never know the rest of the story about someone else’s life. For victims or offenders, the depth of who people are before and beyond the incident is endless. For RJ to be effective, the willingness to be open must emerge.  That means creating safety.  A non-judgemental atmosphere increases safety.

2)Be Open.  Being open, allows for volunteers to share their own experiences as they arise.  The boundary we use, is your sharing being access to inner strength and wisdom.  If you know your ‘lesson’ learned, then you are likely ready to share in Circle.  If you are still in curiosity or strain about the story, likely not one to share in Circle.  Being open takes courage.  A new volunteer recently experienced this challenge.  We were sharing our awareness of people who don’t use, and sharing why they might decide to do this (talking about use, non-use, abuse and addiction as relationship to substances).  She shared about a friend who lost a loved one due to substance addiction.  Later in the Circle, after reflecting on the story, she found incredible hope in the story, related it back to her friend, and was moved to tears as she shared.  She was open, she shared, and it was an incredible lesson for the rest of us in Circle witnessing.  Tears are often found in Circle, and they show the emotions difficult to express or the power of having our hearts touched.

3)Self-care.  Being a volunteer and holding others in your heart, means caring for your own heart.  Self-care is intentional acts or gestures towards honoring yourself.  Stories can be heavy in Circle, the awareness of larger social harms or complex relationships can leave you feeling you can’t make a difference.  Our program, our volunteers make a difference.  Some Circles you see the fruit and in some Circles you aren’t sure if you planted a seed.  What you can do, is (as we ask in Circle) govern your own experience.  Taking care of yourself, in  a good way, is a way to be connected to others.  Refresh, renew, revive if that means working in your garden, taking a bubble bath, attending church, yoga or a call to walk in the woods.  Your fresh presence brings hope to others!

Thank you SCVRJP volunteers!  We couldn’t deliver our mission without you!  Thank you to all the participants who join us in delivering this mission.  Our partners that refer cases, support the program and help us continue to build peace and belonging with Restorative Justice, THANK YOU!

Restorative Justice work as art and being. Three experiences one blog post.

An artist in the show, invited me to the reception.  Twice, so I knew it was important, and relationships are built by going out of our way.  Since I like art, it wasn’t THAT out of the way, so I attended.  Since I know the artist in a totally different context, I didn’t really connect “drawing from life” or the postcard, to what I was going to see.

Voila_Capture1018The gallery was set up with the center space showing the chair the model might sit in.  It became clear from the drawings, the models were nude.  Wow.  I took in the art, appreciated reading the artist statements.  I had just been to a deep meeting and discussion with someone preparing to meet with a surviving family member, in a multiple death traffic fatality incident.  The nakedness of the art, the beauty, reminded me of how we have to get emotionally bare when it comes to Restorative Justice dialogue.  As a facilitator when emotions are high, and grief over the death of a loved is present, you also become bare.  Your own heart is present and you (facilitator) are in it alongside those requesting and agreeing to dialogue.

Later I posted on Facebook, the echoes of this earlier conversation.  It really stayed with me, mostly the bravery of the young person, dealing with very adult issues.  The pre-session preparation was more intense, as we are getting closer to the actual face to face meeting.  The compliment shared was really great to hear as well.  The voiced confidence in SCVRJP and me, confirmed and supported the energy I was feeling about readiness for the dialogue to happen.

photo    This morning a comment on the Facebook post, struck a strong note with me.  Cameron Communicationz, “everything worth doing is an art”.  YES!  I always taught my daughter to know that art was never finished, if you “messed up” just keep coloring or drawing to work that in.  She might not remember that.  I was trying to counter my perfectionism rubbing off on her, but that’s another blog post.  In facilitating a severe crime case, such tender care is needed in exploring the needs of the victims.  Preparing parties to sit face to face after damage and harm, especially when a loved one has died, requires zero attention to your own perfectionism.  All ego of the facilitator needs to be removed, and working towards emotional safety and preparation is the art.

Restorative Justice as art.  That means co-creating with those around you.  That fits well, I teach that a Circle keepers job is to engage everyone as keepers in the Circle.  As I viewed the art in the gallery, there was no way the drawings could have emerged without the live figure (nude model).  Imagine the vulnerability to disrobe and be drawn . . . to me that feels incredibly powerful, a risk taken and completed.  As I looked at the art gallery drawings, I could see myself in some of the drawings.  We connect to art, and I believe we connect to each other in Restorative Justice.  Reflections of ourselves in others.

The link between art and Restorative Justice got me thinking about the similarities.  Using different methods, improving over time, finding yourself in the art you create.  Learning what others interpret or see in your creations.

I got emotionally overwhelmed at the art gallery.  I felt like crying.  I was moved by the courage I felt in the drawings and the honesty expressed.  I enjoyed visiting with the person that invited me.  It was a real lesson, on people being more that you might know.  The restorative justice meeting, the gallery reception, the Facebook comment. Three randomly disconnected things, all now connected in this blog post.  And isn’t that what life and Restorative Justice is all about . . . connections.

Restorative Justice and the powerful web of interconnectedness.

I just opened a gift from a Restorative Justice volunteer.  SCVRJP has a new wall hanging.  peace-flag-string-mini

It was less than a week ago SCVRJP gifted (gave away) a wall hanging.

Interconnectedness of giving and receiving.

Restorative Justice includes and survives by this web of interconnectedness, where we offer and accept with grace.  The community creates spaces for SCVRJP to share, like last nights invitation to share with a large group of youth and their mentors.  SCVRJP couldn’t exist without the support of our volunteer speakers.  Sharing stories and experiences are crucial to helping others understand.  The wisdom of the lived experience is lost if it is not heard.  Speakers sharing their stories, is empowering and healing.

Seeking a new speaker supported by a seasoned speaker warmed my heart.  It reminded me of our web and interconnections.  Our new speaker was nervous, the audience was going to be larger than she expected.  I noticed our other volunteer had a slight smile.  He’s been speaking for 5 or 6 years.  I think his smile was from connecting to how she felt.  He told her not to worry, the audience didn’t know what she was supposed to say, so they wouldn’t know if she made a mistake.

It has always been there inside of me.  I just think people can get up in front of an audience and speak from the heart.  It created a problem for me in high school.  Our youth group was snowed in on a ski trip.  I took the lead on setting up some activities and assigned my best friend a speaking part.  She got really upset and yelled at me, “not everyone is like you”!  We came to laugh about that as we mended our friendship later.  Thank goodness that didn’t stop me from being convinced that people can share their stories.

Our experienced speaker shared with the audience, that he doesn’t like speaking.  He feels anxious before it happens, but the feeling after is helpful.  Our new speaker was excited and was going out for a celebration pizza after the event.  It isn’t for everyone to take on public speaking and sharing.  I have yet to meet the person totally confident about doing this.

The connectedness comes that speakers take the pain of the experience and the fear of speaking and then they plow right through it.  They reach the other side, by a drive to help just one other person.  They speak of trauma after tragic loss, caused by them or caused by others.  They swallow back tears to keep sharing.  They tell their stories from a place of heart.  The courage, strength and resilience they demonstrate touches the audience.  You can feel it in the room, (even when not in Circle).  Last night a group of 100 teens in quiet listening, respectful space gave our speakers the gift of listening.  Our speakers offered their gifts of sharing.

When if feels right, we close out SCVRJP events with the offer of a handshake, high-five or hug.  The audience came up and passed down our line, offering handshakes, hugs and comments.  Many said thanks, a few offered reflections on hearing the stories.  It felt great to see our speakers supported.  I’m a little overwhelmed typing this blog post!

As we left, our new speaker said the handshakes was something she had never experienced before.  Her smile was 1,000 watts bright.  She shared it reminded her of a sporting event where teams shake hands after the game.  At first I didn’t get that, then I thought of how two sides, previously in competition take on that gesture to make peace after the game.  This morning I opened the gift, prayer flags that say PEACE.

peace-flag-string-mini

 

The healing potential in Circle, life after death and the wisdom of lived experience.

As a Circle-keeper, some Circles are so powerful and moving, life lessons around humanity resonate to the very core.  I’ve often said & blogged, that if you are doing ‘Restorative Justice’ well, it changes you.  When something changes you, you remember it.  The kind of change I am talking about is a deeper understanding of others.  The change that comes with an ‘ah-ha’ we are all having a similar experience.  We all have more courage, more strength, more wisdom than we thought.

The Circles that are hanging in my heart and mind, have been ones where we have put the trauma of death in the center.  We have taken the 4 stages of Circle, and put next to them, the 4 phases of Restorative Justice Story telling.

As part of Restorative Response, a program of SCVRJP, the community can request a Circle.  Restorative Response is a program to address healing after un-natural death.  For example homicide, suicide, traffic fatality, drug-overdose, accidents that might cause a sudden, unexpected loss.

Reseach & training has taught us that un-natural death includes additional elements to process.  This includes 3 “V’s”, the violence, violation and volition.  By speaking and listening to one another in Circle, you can begin to let the process of talking about these 3 “V’s”.

I’ve been amazed at these ‘life after death’ Circles. Hearing each others stories, reduces isolation, increases understanding and promotes peace of heart.  I firmly believe: Circles Heal.

It seems these Circles include 3 “C’s”.  Carry-on, Cope, Continue – life after death.  The first is how we ‘Carry-On’ after a loss.  This is the basic and immediate reactions upon hearing or seeing a traumatic event.  By sharing where we were when we got the news, or the parts of the incident that have left images, the burden is lifted.  There is wisdom in survival.  Talking about these pieces helps everyone in Circle feel more connected and have a bit more understanding.  Some traumatic deaths, homicide and suicide, really leave gaps in understanding.  Getting understanding from others helps.  Especially when, collectively we don’t understand “how could someone . . .” or “why” something happened, getting more understanding helps with areas where there is none.  Circles reinforce the first C- to Carry-On.

The second C is Cope.  When you speak about the impact of an incident, you get to relate your own individual impact and experience.  This allows each person a chance to be heard by everyone.  To be listened to is to be validated.  To listen builds empathy.  The action of ‘coping’ is heard within each story of how you are impacted.  We share what we are left to cope with, releasing the burden that we are doing that alone, because others listening to this, helps us.  We are wired for connection, empathy is a powerful tool in humanity.  Circles bring this forward.

The final C is Continue.  How do we Continue on after trauma, how do we find life after death.  For some these C’s could take years, or they could be spiral experiences that you move through again and again.  In Circle, people exchange their experiences in finding hope and resiliency.  This happens in the reflection part of the story or the taking action phase of the Circle.  Finding hope and resiliency are important stages to remind us the story we tell ourselves is as important as the experience.  You plant seeds of hope when you ask each person to share about their resiliency or their ‘post traumatic growth’.  Wisdom is really apparent at this stage.  The sense of hope is compounded by the fact people just shared some really, heavy stuff (the incident, the impact).  The ability to ‘Continue’ is reinforced by the sense that we are all in this together.  We all experienced this traumatic event, we all have different parts, yet together we can move ahead in COMMUNITY.

Connecting with the community, nonprofit networking promotes mission & vision.

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program, SCVRJP began from an idea, just 12 and a half years ago and now services and programs have reached nearly 2,000 in just the first half of 2012.  Many dedicated board members, staff, volunteers, supporters and partners have helped develop and create the nonprofit that “promotes peace & belonging utilizing restorative justice principles & practices” (the mission of SCVRJP).

The nature of Restorative Justice is involve the community in repairing harm.  What Restorative Justice views as harm, is often times often labeled by a particular crime or violation of school code.  Harm, is anything that violates the integrity of another person.  Many times that can extend beyond what laws offer for protection.  If harm doesn’t have the criminal or legal definition, then those systems can’t engage as they might with situations that meet criminal and legal definitions.  SCVRJP focuses on our mission and addresses peace & belonging from building community to responding to crime and harm.

Our work with schools has been developed over time.  Our services are offered  and accepted as schools find value in the process of Circles and the use of Restorative Measures.

The mission of peace & belonging was demonstrated as SCVRJP was busy, helping teachers that will be using Circles as part of an advisory program.  Demonstrations and trainings included student mentors (upper classmen) to have role models in the freshman advisory groups.  It was easy to train on this topic, since SCVRJP engages community mentors in Circles.  Volunteers that support the philosophy, role model the process and provide input to repair the harm.  The feedback from these Circles was positive, that students and staff were able to see each other in a different light.  Confidence was built about using the Circle process and each Circle no matter the topic improves and builds your connections to community.  SCVRJP hosted 7 Circles in one afternoon!

When the harm in our community, the harm of suicide became a concern and a public forum (2010) was held, SCVRJP responded with Circles to support those impacted.  This has evolved into an entire program of services called Restorative Response.  Now SCVRJP is and can be present for any group requesting a Circle after being impacted by sudden, tragic loss – often times in situations of homicide, suicide, traffic fatality, drug overdose.  SCVRJP also offers monthly support group, Restorative Response Circles (6 week sessions) and informal support through a volunteer, match by the bereavement relationship (parent to parent, spouse to spouse).  This program also includes a Grieving Families Guide, which developed after a state trooper listened, and created a resource.  An SCVRJP volunteer, brought that resource to SCVRJP and asked, “can we do this”?  The Guide was distributed on May 31, 2012, and the resource is available to area law enforcement, medical responders, hospitals, grief support groups and is intended to be delivered within the first 48 hours of an un-natural death.  For more details or to obtain copies contact SCVRJP at SCVRJP@gmail.com.  For those outside our service area, the resource can be purchased at a minimal cost to cover printing.

SCVRJP connects with community issues, and attends as many requests as possible.  The O’Connell Funeral Home and St. Bridgets Church hosted a Grief speaker, Richard Obershaw, author of Cry until you Laugh.  SCVRJP hosted a information table, shared resources and connected with community members.  The presentation included the importance of storytelling and sharing grief, the same methods the Restorative Response program provides.  Nonprofit networking includes being present for those that are sharing your message and collaborating with partners to build on strengths and connections.  These connections can them promote your mission and others relate our message.

I was saying thanks for the opportunity, and I had to ask who suggested SCVRJP as a resource.  I was informed the suggestion came from several different places, “your marketing is working well”.  I smiled knowing that the best marketing is a service delivered well.  If peace & belonging our experienced people say good things.  It is each “good thing” that builds on another.  SCVRJP is conducting Circles around some very painful topics, and with some very tender audiences.  The responses are very positive, without our history and background, those doors would not have opened and those invitations not made.  We owe those that have paved the way, as much as we owe those willing to openly express their grief, trauma, resilience and reflections on harmful incidents.  That is community pulling together and that is what promotes the mission of peace & belonging.

 

 

 

Support for responding, reacting or restorative-ing.

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program utilizes the principles and process of Restorative Justice to address public health issues of impaired driving, underage consumption, controlled substance use, disorderly conduct, and other conflicts/crimes that are referred and appropriate for Restorative Justice.  We’ve developed a strong program utilizing community members, storytelling and Restorative Justice Circles.

RJ – Restorative Justice – is vicitm-centered, in a world of process for offenders.  The discipline, sanction, punishment models are very different, however a source of referrals, and an introduction of a harmful incident to a Restorative process.

Case flow from incident to SCVRJP.  SCVRJP has grown to be a trusted and effective option for many.  For others, the program is not utilized, dismissed or misunderstood.  As the Executive Director, I carry a great deal of passion about the work we do.  I am a true believer in Restorative Justice.  I get to make important decisions on a daily basis about responding or reacting.  I train our volunteers and I seek to live the values of RJ and utilize Respect, Responsibility and Relationship as best I can.

Others might be faced with similiar challenges of feeling undervalued, dismissed or misunderstood.  These may root from the intentional or UNintentional actions of others.  They may root from your own perceptions, expereinces or lenses.  Recent tragic events may trigger your need to do more, say more, right the wrong.  For that, I’d like to share a resource I discovered – LINK.  You’ll find some strategic advice, and a poem that I wanted to share:

You can’t be all things to all people.

You can’t do all things at once.

You can’t do all things equally well.

You can’t do all things better than everyone else.

Your humanity is showing just like everyone else’s.

 

So: You have to find out who you are, and be that.

You have to decide what comes first, and do that.

You have to discover your strengths, and use them.

You have to learn not to compete with others,

Because no one else is in the contest of *being you*.

Then:

You will have learned to accept your own uniqueness.

You will have learned to set priorities and make decisions.

You will have learned to live with your limitations.

You will have learned to give yourself the respect that is due.

And you’ll be a most vital mortal.

 

Dare To Believe:

That you are a wonderful, unique person.

That you are a once-in-all-history event.

That it’s more than a right, it’s your duty, to be who you are.

That life is not a problem to solve, but a gift to cherish.

And you’ll be able to stay one up on what used to get you down.

You can’t be all things to all

Effective, even alone, co-keep a Restorative Justice Circle.

An element of an effective Restorative Justice Circle is engaging each and every person in the power of the Circle.  This can be a difficult group process management skill.  Lucky for Circlekeepers, the Circle itself brings that.  In essence you turn a Circle over to the individuals present.  A Restorative Justice Circle is most beneficial when each and every person feels a sense of change.

The keeper sets the tone.  The keeper prepares the space, guides the process to values, to the talking piece, to the form and efficiency of listening deeply.

The mutual exchange of transformational energy, is service.  Anyone can serve another by having compassion for that person.  By sharing how I have learned, grown and become a better person – you might be able to find some insight, some deeper perspective you had before.

Even if you are the only one assigned to be ‘keeping’ the Circle, know that your Circle will be more effective, if you view every person in the Circle as your co-keeper.  I say things like “everyone is both teacher and student”.  We honor the equal worth of every person, by having that respect and showing it to each person.  That plays out into Circles where each person feels and experiences personal growth.

Another element of an effective Restorative Justice Circle is the feeling after.  Did you as the keeper feel inspired?  Do you have a warm feeling of serving others?  It is not about fixing them, because that would mean you thought they were broken.  It doesn’t mean feeling you helped them, that would imply a debt.

More perspective on fix, help, serve here and here.  So much communication is non-verbal.  That is why spending time in Circle Training – really know and understand the concepts and philosophy about Restorative Justice and Circle is so important.

Circle is based on Native American traditions.  Restorative Justice Circles are an extension from that cultural world-view.  These two sentances are very broad and general.  Not all, but most Restorative Justice Circle practitioners that I know, did not grow up from a deep or intate connection to a Indigenous world-view.  It takes practice to work from this framework, it takes dedication and constant self-evaluation.

Those I most trust with the process, those I am most connected to have worked very hard on an inclusive world-view.  The best keepers I know, have examined their life, wounds, and strengths.  From that they have developed a pretty good sense of humor!  Please bring your whole self to relationships and you will serve others.

Circle keeping from the depths of your humanity.

Thank you Webster dictionary on-line.  Humanity:  The totality of human beings.  Human Beings are mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.  I believe that Circle keeping is most effective when the keeper is working towards a balance and wellness.  I say working towards – cause we grow and learn every single day.

Circle keeping is the manner and method of guiding the process of a Restorative Justice Circle.  Anyone can tell other people what to do.  Facilitation techniques separate you from the group.  The elements of power are important in Circle keeping.  Using the power of love rather than the power of authority.  It takes practice in this.  What you are doing is using a strength, often initially perceived as weakness.  Being vulnerable and creating space for others to do the same is really intentional behavior.

I write about this because of a recent experience.  I was able to get feedback from Kay Pranis and Jennifer Ball.  Kay, author of Peacemaking Circles and the Little Book of Circle process.  Jennifer Ball, co-authored Doing Democracy with Circles (with Kay and Wayne Caldwell).  Links take you to Living Justice Press, where these are also available as E-books!

I was excited to meet Jennifer, and knew she would bring gifts to being part of the Circle.  I love Kay, she has been a teacher, guide, mentor, inspiration for years.  I managed to stay calm about conducting the Circle, by just remembering how I know Circle.  By remembering this is about the Circle, Kay will be a wonderful community participant.  There really is no control of a Circle or the outcomes.  You REALLY do need to trust the process.

It was a good Circle.  One young man, after hearing the story, got up and shook the storytellers hand.  That was so significant because a change of heart (which I always say leads to a change of behavior) happened right there in front of us.  I could go on about what I saw that went well, I will go on about Keeping Circle.

Humanity is the realization we are all the same.  Humanity is a gracious space of connectedness, and connectedness means inclusion.  I’ve been asked about the words I used that night.  The feedback has been that my keeping was smooth and flowed.  I’m thankful, relieved and proud of the work that SCVRJP has evolved into doing.  I’ve been intentional about keeping our Circles very close to core values and the core elements of the process.  I believe that we have created a community of practice – Circles that are invitational, non-judgemental and transformative.  The feedback on the keeping was reflective of this collective.

If you connect to the collective, the core values and elements of Circle, your keeping will come from the depths of your humanity.  Keeping from that place, produces the magic and mystery that is Circle.