Let me be clear … my basic personality type is to avoid conflict. It’s been my guiding force, my raison d’etre, all my life, and has probably led me into more conflict that any other trait.
So what a surprise for me to eventually discover how incredibly useful and productive conflict can be, if we walk towards it, and not away. I am eternally grateful to Dominic Barter, who came up with Restorative Circles through working with drug gangs in the favellas (slums) of Brazil. This is no namby-pamby, first-world-problem, lets-all-just-be-nice-to-each-other stuff.
Through my exploration of needs with nonviolent communication, I came to understand that one of biggest needs, perhaps surprisingly, is the need to be heard and understood – and it’s that that comes up over and over and over in conflict. Why do we keep screaming at each other? Why do we keep butting heads? We just can’t let go of the hope that the other person will hear us, will understand. And yet our strategies for getting heard tend to be unworkable, and result in pain all ’round – not only for those directly involved in the conflict, but often all those around them as well.
So, the process of restorative circles is basically a way of getting people to hear each other. This requires some scaffolding to provide the safety required for people to be willing to speak, and more importantly, be willing and able to listen. It also is structured to include *all* the people involved, including members in the community who are affected.
Building this safe space starts with a trusted person – the “facilitator” – going around and having a chat with the people involved. This is called the “pre-circles”. The facilitator is generally someone who’s had some training in being empathic, in being able to hear a story with care, and without judgment.
I love the simplicity of the actual restorative circle. There are a set of questions that are asked by the facilitator of the various people in the room, often beginning with the person who is least able to hear other people at that time. The questions and process are simple, and they work.
A full description of the process can be read here.
TO DO: include link to Carolyn’s RC film