I often get the question “what are circles?”
This is a valid question. In our modern culture circle processes have be relegated to rather unique settings. You can find circle practices across the globe in all cultures and communities. They often look different but use some of the same concepts. First I want to tell you what make a circle a Circles, then we can discuss how Circles connect to the philosophy of Restorative Justice.
Circles are a formalized listening process. This structures everyone’s opportunity to speak and respond. Circles aren’t focused on solving the problem. Their main focus is to give real voice to those that have felt excluded from the conversation. In traditional classrooms we find teachers control the pacing and tempo of the conversation, they determine who speaks and who is listening. Understand that changing this dynamic can be supportive to building strong relationships between youth and teachers as well as youth and their peers. When we can give a bit of our power up to a process that includes and balances power we will achieve a growing level of engagement and stronger relationships.
Circle generally look like everyone sitting or standing in a circle, its helpful if everyone is sitting in similar chairs. Circles often have a center piece, this could be a plant, a bowl of water, a dish of sand, or a small quilt. Often a center piece is created through the contributions or all members of the circle. Similar to the center piece a talking piece is an object that has significance to all members, but this talking piece travels around the circle is a way that signifies the focus and point of power within the circle. The facilitator has a couple roles but one of the most important is asking and answering the questions. While the questions my be sourced from the group at large in the moment or in a previous activity the facilitator will pose the question for all to hear and answer the question. The manner in which the question is answered often set the standard for engagement in the topic. This description only touches on the content of the circle understand that there is more to the circle process.
The other question is “How do circles relate to the broader Restorative Justice philosophy?” Circle tie tightly to Restorative Justice do to is relationship building nature. It also engages everyone in an active process. There is rarely a “silence is agreement” culture, rather there is a culture of “I agree and this is important to me.” When we think about building relationship (the primary focus or Restorative Justice) we can see that circles can be an exceptional tool to achieve this goal, even without the heat of significant conflict.
i agree with your statement: “Circle (my words: the process) tie tightly to Restorative Justice due to its relationship building nature”. It seems to me that cultures using a circle process regularly as part of their community have greater ‘generational’ connections. I mean that youth seem willing to spend time with parents, and grandparents. Perhaps Restorative Justice may benefit the family elders, though many families in our society are single generations.
I think the tradition of family dinners are definitely a form of circles. While there can often be a hierarchical process or feel to those meals the more people can sit with each other the better. Your comment addressing the generational aspects that rarely exist in our families is a perspective that I can get behind. If you think about how some family traditions exclude or relegate young people to the “kids table” and connect that to how youth are view and perceived. Do those youth have the same value as adults? Those that do that are sending the message of No, you’re not as important as the adults.
The questions becomes how to families maximize this opportunity for connection during family events? I think each family has the best answers from themselves.