What are Circles?
“Circles provide the space in which we reveal ourselves, uncover our core humanity, and allow others to feel, know, and touch us. We can’t walk through the sacred space of Circles and emerge as we were. We are deepened, and from those depths, we find the power to create our worlds anew – together.” (Pranis, Stuart, and Wedge. Peacemaking Circles: From Crime to Community, 2003)
Since ancient times, people have been sitting in Circle to discuss difficult and emotional issues. They’ve also come together in Circle to reflect on and celebrate various occasions and individuals. Through the many uses of Circles; one common thread is community. Through the recognition and participation in Circle, the community can deepen its level of trust and understanding. Circles can help transform conflict, create trust and heal damaged relationships, build stronger teams, empower individuals, enhance personal accountability, and facilitate creative problem-solving.
In all its manifestations, the Circle process gets to the heart of two questions: How are we going to be with each other? How can we be with each other in a good way?
Circles create a safe environment where people who don’t normally voice their thoughts begin to speak, and people who normally monopolize the conversation begin to listen. In Circle, everyone’s voice is important to the process. Job title, expertise, education, and age have no bearing on who gets to speak and who is invited to listen. When framed properly, authentic dialogue nearly always occurs when time is taken to build enough trust and safety.
How are circles used?
Community-Building Circle is to create bonds and build relationships among a group of people who have a shared interest. Community-Building Circles support effective collective action and mutual responsibility.
Healing Circle is to share the pain of a person or group who has experienced disruption to the harmony of the group, a traumatic experience, or loss.
A Conflict Circle brings together disputing parties to resolve their differences.
Celebration Circles bring together a group of people to recognize an individual or a group and to share a sense of accomplishment.
In a Talking Circle, participants explore a particular issue or topic from many different perspectives. Talking Circles all voices are being heard, and a range of perspectives offered to stimulate reflection and tap into the collective wisdom.
A Circle of Understanding focuses on contemplating on some aspect of a conflict or difficult situation. A Circle of Understanding does not usually seek to reach a consensus. Its purpose is to develop a complete picture of the context or reason for an incident or behavior.
What is a Racial Healing Circle?
The peacemaking circle process is utilized for racial healing. Peacemaking circles are a different way of talking about race/ism that is relational, preemptive, and proactive. The circle process taps into both ancient practices and modern processes to create trust and belonging. Healing race/ism is the only way to restore us to our full humanity. Peace Circles provide the space for transforming relationships with yourself and others. The circle brings us together to share our individual truths, history and stories. A healing circle’s purpose is to reaffirm the humanity in all of us. And, to lift up what unites us rather than what divides us; while discovering, respecting and honoring the unique experiences of each person.
What is Racial Healing?
Racism affects all of us where we live, learn, work and play. We experience these effects when we take our children to school, when we apply for jobs, when we try to rent or buy a home, when we shop, when we interact with the police and more. Racism can affect us both as individuals and within our systems and institutions. It affects our ability to know, relate to and value one another. Systemically, it can be one of the biggest obstacles to solving the challenges we face in our communities because it often keeps us apart.
Facing this reality, communities need tools to help heal from these effects. To heal means to restore to wholeness; to repair damage; and to set right. The peacemaking circle process is one method for facilitating racial healing. Racial healing recognizes the need to acknowledge and tell the truth about past wrongs created by individual and systemic racism and address the present consequences. It is a process and tool that can facilitate trust and build authentic relationships that bridge divides created by real and perceived differences. It is essential to pursue racial healing prior to doing change making work in a community. Because, before you can transform systems and structures, you must do the people work first. Otherwise, the work is not sustainable.
The sessions may consist of large group work, smaller breakout work, and other exercises or activities to raise awareness and stimulate the conversations. The experience relies heavily on intentional listening. It can be an emotional experience and even transformational for participants as it can unearth painful truths, and conscious and unconscious biases. It can also raise the awareness, consciousness and empathy among those who participate. It is the responsibility of the circle keepers to help ensure that these circles are confidential, safe spaces for participants to have truthful conversations with one another.
Racial healing is an intentional long-term process that requires more than one circle or one day of work to be transformative. It is believed that we all can benefit from participating in racial healing and that deep, productive relationships can emerge to help our communities heal from the effects of racism and racial inequities. This work increases engagement in and among a community and can help develop people into more effective leaders. The responsibility for social change belongs to all of us.