By Cara Walsh, Catherine Bargen, Aaron Lyons, and Matthew Hartman
“Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle... The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were ... and so it is in everything where power moves.” - Black Elk
What are circles?
A circle is a dialogue process with the goal of creating deeply respectful space to be with one another. In a circle, everyone’s voice is equal and uninterrupted; no person is more important than another.
Circles are an ancient form of human interaction that have been preserved through Indigenous peacemaking traditions, taught widely and generously, and embraced by people of many cultures around the world. They are based on the understandings that the world is profoundly interconnected; human beings desire to be in good relationship; and that we all have essential gifts.1
Circles embody in physical form the values of respect, inclusivity, equality, collaboration, honesty, and transparency. There are no sides and there is no hierarchy. When we come into a circle, we are stepping into a place of genuine encounter. Created with intention, the circle is a powerful container for all of the human experience.
What are circles for?
The simple technology of circles can be adapted and used for different situations, including building community, healing, decision making, resolving conflict, talking about difficult subjects, giving/receiving support, celebrating, and more.
What are the elements of a circle?
Circle Keeper: The Circle Keeper is a caretaker of the process. They are in a position of responsibility, but not authority. They are responsible for helping participants maintain the values of the circle, and tend to the quality of the space throughout the circle.
Opening and Closing: Circles invite us into a space and a way of being present that is different from ordinary meetings. Creating moments of ritual or ceremony to open and close the circle helps participants center themselves, arrive in the present and create a useful demarcation from everyday conversation.
Talking Piece: Circles typically use a symbolic object that regulates turn taking. The talking piece is passed from person to person to allow the speaker to share without interruption and to allow the listeners to focus on deeply listening without interruption. No one is ever required to speak. In an online format, the idea of the talking piece can be maintained by participants passing the speaking role to one another according to a pre-determined speaking order.
Circle Values/Guidelines: Having guidelines and shared values about how participants agree to conduct themselves and show up together is an essential component to the creation of a circle. Guidelines are not meant to be rigid rules, but shared expectations and norms of being together in right relationships.
Circle Prompts: Circles use guiding questions or themes at the beginning of each round to initiate thinking and catalyze authentic sharing.
Resource Sheet for the Online Circle Keeper
1) Determine the speaking order
Type/paste everyone’s name in chat box to determine the circle order.
2) Open the Circle
Provide an opening to ground and center participants into the space.
Suggestions: Mantra, prayer, singing, reading, silence, meditation, breathing exercise, etc
3) Review Circle Guidelines
Review circle guidelines to create shared foundation and container for how to show up together.
4) Some suggested guidelines:
4) Introduce the Speaking Order
Let participants know that turn taking will happen in the order that the names are written in the chatbox.
5) Introduce the Circle Prompts
Share the circle prompts that have been provided for the session (these will be in the chat box)
6) Close the Circle
Create an opportunity to transition out of the circle space with intention and acknowledgment of time and connection together. Suggestions: one word check-out, song, silence, reading, etc.
Tips for Circle Keepers
1* We gratefully acknowledge the work of our teachers Mark Wedge, Kay Pranis, Harold Gatensby and Phil Gatensby, in offering these concepts and teachings. All imperfections here are our own.