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How do We Begin to Unify the Country? Circle Practices May be the Answer.

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

In the Chicago Tribune Voices section on Tues., Nov. 17, Denise Crosby presents the varied responses she received from readers to her previous column, written shortly after the election, "calling for unity in the wake of a bruising presidential campaign." The comments voiced a range of emotions from skepticism to downright anger. One gentleman wrote, 'Unifying the country is pie in the sky blather. It cannot and never will occur.' Daunting tasks indeed, to bring together the seemingly disparate factions in our country, represented by those who voted for Trump and those who did not, while expediting the process of healing the animosity harbored by many along with the misunderstanding and lack of acceptance it has spawned. As highlighted in Crosby's article, some, maybe many, believe this is not possible. For those of us who disagree, how do we begin to bring about this unification and healing?

I suggest that first, by deciding we truly want unity and the benefits it brings, we can then choose to believe it is possible. Believing sets the framework for the inspiration and motivation to find solutions and do the work required to bring them about. Henry Ford once said: “Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can’t Either Way You Are Usually Right.” Whatever we set our minds to, however we decide to focus our attention and energy, determine the types of outcomes we have a hand in creating or at least drawing to ourselves.

I believe Circle Process, the foundation of restorative justice practices, offer a path to healing and understanding which may lead to creating greater unity in our country. A facilitator presents a question to which everyone has a chance to respond without interruption, while holding a talking piece. When they are finished speaking, each individual hands the talking piece to the next person who may then speak with the same full attention of the group, and without any interference.

As Kay Pranis explains, “Circles aim to create a space in which participants are safe to be their most authentic self." The circle process for group participation promotes sharing through authentic expression; learning through listening and observation; and ultimately, collaboration through respect and understanding. Originating with the indigenous peoples of North America, Talking Circles ensured that each leader of the First Nations tribal council would have a chance to speak and be heard without interruption. "The nuance of subtle energy created from using this respectful approach to talking with others provides a sense of communion and interconnectedness that is not often present in the common methods of communicating in the classroom. When everyone has their turn to speak, when all voices are heard in a respectful and attentive way, the learning atmosphere becomes a rich source of information, identity, and interaction” (First Nations Pedagogy Online).

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