The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking
by Kay Pranis
Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Pranis, Kay. The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2005.
This book explores the peacemaking potential of a storytelling practice drawn from ancient Native American traditions using a talking peace. Circles bring together people as equals for honest exchanges about the challenges each has encountered. As such, it is a time-worn peacemaking approach that is also consistent with modern desires to be democratic and inclusive. In so doing, the participants learn from the wisdom of other members of the circle. Participants sit in a circle, but without a table between them. There may be objects in the center that have some shared meaning to serve as a focus for the group. Dialogue is regulated by a talking piece, any object that is passed around the circle and grants the holder the sole right to speak. Circle processes are used in a broad range of contexts from crime victims to classrooms to the workplace. Circles are used for a variety of purposes such as talking, understanding, healing, sentencing, support, community-building, conflict, reintegration, and celebration. The book provides a checklist of sorts to see if a Circle would be suitable to the situation and also has a variety of illustrations throughout.
Circles are built upon two main premises. First, it presumes participants share a set of values, regardless of what they may be. Second is a recognition of the interconnectedness of all things including the fates of everyone in the group and the effects of our behavior on others.
The Circle Process is designed to create a safe space for participants. It does so through five structural elements. The first point is the ceremonies to mark the opening and closing of the session to designate that this space is unique. Second, guidelines for interaction are agreed upon by participants and they, like all decisions, are reached by consensus. These guidelines generate expectations for behavior. The third important element is the talking piece. It regulates the conversation and slows it down offering opportunity for reflection. Circles also have a Keeper or a facilitator. This fourth element is not intended to direct the group, but she works to maintain the collective space and stimulate reflection. The final aspect is consensus decision-making. This makes participants consider the perspectives of others and also have the courage to speak their opinion. Consensus can be reached, Pranis argues, even if there is not full agreement provided everyone believes they have been allowed to have their say.