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Circle as Worldview

Learning #2:

"equal human dignity & voice"

by: emily



In her trainings, Kay Pranis, a national leader in restorative justice focusing on Peacemaking Circles, talks about the Worldview of the Circle and asks the question: What are the beliefs of the Circle? As we sit in Circle and practice and practice and practice, the lessons and beliefs of the Circle slowly emerge. I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned about the Worldview of Circle and what those beliefs might be. The Circle is a powerful metaphor for understanding some very deep lessons of life.


The second learning that I'd like to offer in this series is the idea that the circle holds each person with equal human dignity & voice. Just as in the mathematical circle where no one point on the circle is more important than any other point, in the talking circle, no one circle member is more important than anyone else. It is presumed that everyone has something to offer. Everyone has gifts to share and something important to say.


Similarly, everyone is equally responsible for the quality of the space and accountable to everyone in the circle. This is hard for many, since in Western dominant culture, we are used to looking to the authority figure to manage the space. But in circle space, we are all responsible for what happens in circle.


Circles can be used for many things, from celebration to conflict, and the basic principle of 'equal human dignity & voice' is a consistent value in the space. One way that we can really see this manifest is in consensus-based decision-making. Everyone is in involved in the decision-making; no decision is imposed.


An easy example of consensus-based decision-making is the Guidelines Round. We use the Guidelines Round to explore how we want to be together. The three questions we ask are:


  1. How do you want to treat others?

  2. How do you want to be treated by others?

  3. How do we want to communicate with each other?


Each person is invited to answer one or more of these questions to help us all understand how we can be together in a good way. And, ironically, it not about what ends up on the list, it is more about the process.


Initially, there can be a lot of resistant to the Guidelines Round: "Can't you just give us a list of rules to obey?" or "Can't we just consolidate some of these?" People are not used to the messiness involved in truly including each person's thoughts and requests. It's hard work! But once people are able to relax both into the process and messiness, we are able to move into this deep principle of equal human dignity and voice. Sometimes, the list of Guidelines is 31 large post-it notes long! But if that's what it takes to have each person's needs and requests known, that's what is needed.


After doing hundreds of Guidelines Rounds, I have begun to understand that doing a Guidelines Round is always available, if we are willing to watch for it. Recently, I went on a date to go plant shopping, and I noticed that my date wanted to walk slowly through the nursery and inspect each gorgeous little sprout. I, however, wanted to bounce around with big enthusiastic energy and move towards the loud and proud plants! It occurred to me that that non-verbal negotiation was part of a potential and unacknowledged Guidelines Round. Just knowing our desires for different ways of being was enough for me to relax into the process and messiness of the moment. We each have equal dignity and voice, and each of our contributions is needed and valued -- in circle and on dates. :)

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