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.