Peacemaking circles derive from the practices and tribal wisdom of Native Americans, where members of a community gather as equals to discuss matters of significance.
One of the most important contributions of Circles is the strengthened web of relationships among a group of people. It may be in a classroom, neighborhood, workplace, family of faith group. As people sit together, talk about values, share personal stories, and work through disagreements in an atmosphere of respect and caring, they weave strong cords of connection among themselves. Those connections increase the community’s capacity to take care of all its members and to find solutions when problems arise.
Kay Pranis, The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking.
Circles establish shared values and guidelines and utilize a talking piece to ensure that each participant has the opportunity to speak, be heard, and listen attentively. Circles model a cooperative way to relate respectfully with each other and the issues that challenge us. Because everyone has the opportunity to participate, circles ensure a diversity of perspectives and experience. When we share our stories, we can hear in each other the longing to belong, to matter, to feel safe, understood, and appreciated. Recognizing universal human feelings and needs allows us to build relationships on a foundation of connection and commonality. Circles open and close with a simple ceremony to remind us the time we devote to nurturing community is sacred.
The application of circles includes but is not limited to the following:
- circles of support (bringing a person, group or institution through a difficult passage be it grief, loss, medical treatment, unemployment, change in identity, recovery, familial abuse)
- community-building to develop and enhance relationships, accountability and shared interest (during discord or after a contentious event; to gain momentum for a community initiative; to focus collective energy on a goal; to afford deep listening across cultures to inform policy)
- conflict transformation circles bringing parties together to capture the creative energy of conflict that promotes consensus and accountability
- reconciliation circles that address empathy, accountability, forgiveness, redemption (freedom from harm) and restitution
- re-integration circles to reunite an individual with family, co-workers, or community members after a breach in relationship has occurred (this circle might also include a reconciliation circle process as well)
- circles of celebration, memorialization, or ritual to recognize accomplishment, passages in life’s journey
- restorative/healing justice practices within or in response to a criminal-legal context (this could include a circle of support and accountability for all stakeholders)
- constructive consequence circles in schools and colleges to foster empathy, accountability and belonging that replace punitive, ineffective responses to student and staff behavior
- workplace circles that provide an appropriate setting to acknowledge and process psycho-social factors in behavior, creativity and interpersonal dynamics; respond to grievances; deepen understanding around bias, and the difference between intent and impact; staff renewal and leadership training
- congregational circles to transform conflict; craft/revise mission and vision statements; explore theological underpinnings to social justice and peacebuilding; enliven worship; to better embody the values and principle espoused