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PEACE MAKING CIRCLES

Adapted from Carolyn Boyes-Watson, Suffolk College; Jon Prichard, University of Maine; Pranis, K., Barry Stuart and Mark Wedge, 2003, Peacemaking Circles, From Crime to Community, Living Justice Press.

 

Circles are found in the First Nations cultures of  Canada, and are used for many purposes.

 

When to use Peacemaking Circles.

Peacemaking circles bring together individuals who want to engage in conflict resolution, healing, support, decision making or other activities when honest communication, relationship development, and community building are desired outcomes. Circles can be appropriate in business, family, judicial, social service and other settings. They offer an alternative to other meeting processes that often rely on hierarchy, win-lose positioning, and victim/rescuer approaches to relationships and problem solving. Circles bring people together in a way that creates trust, respect, intimacy, good will, belonging, generosity, mutuality and reciprocity. The process is never about "changing others", but rather is an invitation to change oneself and one’s relationship with the community. 

 

Circles are effective in any group settings in which there is a desire for:

  • Accountability rather than punishment

  • Individual and collective accountability rather than only individual accountability

  • Building community

  • Individual and collective change and transformation

Peacemaking circles are structured to enable communication, even on very difficult issues. They emphasize healing and learning through a collective group process, aiming to repair harm done and assign responsibility by talking through the problem. 

What does a peace circle look like?

At a peace circle, at least 3 participants sit in a circle of chairs, ideally without tables or other obstructions between them. At the center, symbolic objects may be placed to remind participants of values shared among them. The participants use a talking stick to take turns speaking. The talking piece is passed from person to person in the circle and only the person holding the piece may speak ensuring that each person has an opportunity to be heard. Peace circles can be used in a variety of settings including schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, among family and friends, and in the juvenile and criminal legal systems. Consensus decision making honors the values and principles of peacemaking circles and helps participants to stay grounded in them. 'Facilitators' of the circle guide the participants and direct the movement of the talking piece. As the talking piece makes the rounds of the circle, the group discusses different topics.

 

Although each circle is unique all peacemaking circles generally:

  • are designed by those who use them

  • are guided by a common concern

  • require that  participants act on their personal values

  • include all parties involved with the topic or situation

  • offer everyone an opportunity to participate

  • take a holistic approach, including the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual

  • maintain respect for all who participate

  • encourage exploring solutions beneficial to all participants

How long does the process take?

Discussion and resolution of the problem may be achieved in a single session, but peace circles may extend into many sessions until genuine consensus is reached. Circle processes are simple and organic but certainly cannot be facilitated in a pinch and are by no means, an ‘easy way out’. The circle process builds on the values of respect, honesty, listening, truth, sharing, and others. The circle is 'complete' when the goals of the circle are attained - the goals are set by the participants.