So many of the people I counsel come to me depressed because they feel unheard. - Mary Lynne Musgrove, Professional Counselor, Columbus, Ohio
Peacemaking Circles have become a powerful way to help both the children we serve & many of their parents feel heard. - Anne Pruett, Oasis Center
How do we know we exist? Most of us look for cues from the people around us. Are we seen, heard, recognized by anyone else? So many people's lives are damaged because they grew up never feeling heard & therefore not valued. In Nashville, some teens seek help from a marvelous organization called Oasis Center. Why?...
What if you entered a room full of people, all of whom knew you, & none of them acknowledged you? What if you spoke to various individuals & each person ignored you as if you'd said nothing & were not there? If you got this treatment all the time, would you start feeling invisible?
A recognized way for groups to punish individuals is through exclusion, or shunning. Shunning by a group is a way of inflicting pain by pretending that a given person no longer exists. Forget ancient examples, you need only look to workplace or schoolplace cliques among adults and teenagers & the power they hold to signal whether we belong &, therefore, are entitled to a voice. Consider that one of the harshest punishments for prisoners is solitary confinement.
The results of shunning can be devastating. As humans, we all need to feel heard.
The reverse of shunning is loving inclusion. Nashville-based Oasis Center cares for teenagers that feel shunned from their own families. Under the leadership of CEO Hal Cato, they are moving from very good to great. Part of their success comes from an approach two of their staff, Anne Pruett and Tracy Roberts, learned from another charity, Roca, Inc. in Chelsea, Mass. The practice uses an approach called Peacemaking Circles. It's so powerful that one wonders why all organizations don't use it.
You can imagine the Native American origins of this idea - how insights and respect traveled around the circle with the passing of peace pipes. Adapting this wisdom to charitable organizations as a healing practice is common sense.
According to Ms. Pruett, "Peacemaking Circles invite participants to explore their thoughts and beliefs through connection with others. They allow everyone attending to come as they are and practice how they want to be." What a gift - to come as you are and be your truest self!
As I understand it, here are the basic (& overly simplified) rules of Peacemaking Circles:
- Everyone has an equal place in the circle (two "keepers" take the reponsibility to begin & end each circle on a positive note. They typically will offer an "opening" reflection and a closing comment.)
- An object, called "the talking piece" is passed from person to person.
- If a person doesn't wish to speak, they merely pass the piece along.
- The only person allowed to speak is the person holding the talking piece.
- The key guideline is respect. This means that comments made by people in the circle are treated with reasonable confidentiality and that members address each other and listen respectfully. It also means that if someone makes a disrespectful comment, it is not up to the keepers to intervene. Disrespectful behavior is typically handled by the rest of the group as each subsequent speaker has the option of addressing any problems that arise. "The group usually resolves and finds balance," Ms. Pruett says.
How could something so simple be so powerful? With Oasis, it's easy to see the answer. A core problem with many troubled teenagers circles around feelings of exclusion. The truth is, all of us go to extraordinary efforts to feel heard. Teenagers often go to greater efforts than any other group as they struggle to find their adult identity. Peacemaking Circles, therefore, provide an extraordinary opportunity for healing for the teens as well as parents that come to Oasis for help.
So much of our healing comes through how we listen to each other - and to ourselves.
So how about other organizations? Anne Pruett says that the Circle process has already made a "huge difference" in the effectiveness of their staff in handling the many tough issues they face. The idea works for staff as well as counselors. Again, you can see why. Staff needs an opportunity to listen to each other's joys and concerns - not just about work but about the rest of life.
The Circles are a simple concept, but it takes significant training to really appreciate the power and depth of the approach. The two leaders from Oasis took four straight days of training in Massachusetts. Included in the training groups have been staff as diverse as government employees, gang members, and executives of the World Bank.
In short, Peacemaking Circles are a marvelous way to build team trust and strengthen team performance for organizations who care about developing effective communication.
It takes an organization truly dedicated to excellence to take on the Circle concept. Of course, only the best charities engage in best practices like this.
Peacemaking Circles are the latest example of why Oasis is one of the finest charities in Tennessee - one more reason why Oasis is truly an oasis for all they serve.
Questions for Reflection:
- Could Peacemaking Circles help your organization?
- How would you go about introducing this idea.?
- When will YOU initiate this process in your organization?
Note: Here's an excellent link that further describes the power of this work: