I facilitated two circles this past week and they both led to some pretty strong emotions and sometimes dramatic actions from participants. I think I just want to unpack one of them here. I had a circle at Monroe Correctional Facility with a woman and her family and despite my efforts to not have expectations, I was expecting it to go poorly.
And I guess by poorly I mean, participants not really listening to each other and feeling like the experience was counterproductive. Happily, I was wrong. The woman in jail had put in a lot of work between the time when we first met and today. She was much more accepting of her role in any harm that was done to her family and communicated that effectively to them. I think that really helped her family feel like she was learning and growing and maybe wouldn't participate in the same behaviors that got her into jail. I'm just sort of in awe, time and again, with the power of the circle. Sometimes I feel as if we're staring up at constellations of possible conversations and just tracing with our fingers where we see a shape taking form. Like in today's case, there was such a vast network of stories and broken promises, blame, and misplaced trust, it seemed hard for anyone in that circle to know where to even begin tapping out the first dots and dashes of a conversation in their everyday life. But sitting down with a couple of strangers whose sole purpose is to hang out with you through a bit of a talk, somehow makes the starting off a little easier.
Doing these circles has been a really great exercise in humility too. I found myself getting sort of anxious yesterday about the meeting – thinking it was going to go badly and what if everyone fights the whole time? And what if no one uses the talking piece and everyone is just yelling at each other and the family walks out? I had to remind myself that it's not my circle, it's theirs, and they will get out of it whatever they put into it. I have some skills as a listener and a sort of emotional translator and all I can do is use those skills to the best of my ability. It's also humbling when in the actual circle to remember that I have no idea what a good "solution" looks like for this family, no matter what little judgments I've inadvertently made along the way.
I'm a little tired so I'm not feeling that my thoughts are as crystal clear as I'd like them to be. I just felt in awe of People today. I was sitting with just some unbelievably compassionate, resilient, and brokenhearted spirits and they were completely remarkable and completely average all at once.