The circle is the oldest and most common organizing formation in humanity. People across time, geography and culture have met in circles. It is the basis upon which relationships are established and nurtured, alliances are forged and decisions are made. The inherent nature of the circle implies equality. There is no hierarchy in the circle. As Liz Medicine Crow of the First Alaskans Institute says, “in our circles, there is a leader in every chair.” Circles are inherently inclusive, and can expand or contract to suit the needs of those to show up. All voices are heard and respected, honoring the individual and collective wisdom of the group.
We use the power of the circle to build and deepen trust, align values and principles, and work toward real, measurable, and sustained change. While the process is tailored to meet the specific needs of the group, the five organizing principles remain constant. They are:
Principle 1: It is essential to “Call the Circle” with a thoughtful, intentional, and meaningful opening and closing. This sets a sacred space that invites people to engage their voices, bodies, hearts, and spirits in the process.
Principle 2: Establish guideposts to maintain a circle of caring and trust.
Principle 3: Be intentional about the framing of the activities and prompts. They open the door for people to tap into their wisdom and stories.
Principle 4: Have skilled facilitators who can create and maintain safe space.
Principle 5: Make sure people leave with a sense of hope, and some next steps — a conversation they will have, a book they will read, or a circle they may organize.
These five principles have worked across all types of groups — from neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and families. Once people agree to trust the process of the circle, transformation happens. We offer The Second Circle in three distinct series –
The Second Circle Series 1: Building Beloved Communities: Often, we find ourselves among “strangers,” even if we have lived next door to them or worked beside them for years. And often, people speak about themselves through their professions, their jobs, or their affiliations. It is common courtesy to ask a person what they do, but it is considered rude to ask them who they are. Based on a Hawaiian storytelling tradition developed by Puanani Burgess, this series is designed to help people get below their titles, the letters after their names and their achievements. It allows people to recognize each others’ humanity, Face to Face.
Case Study: While facilitating a Second Circle on the possible dismantling of several Confederate monuments in a major Southern city, two adversaries came Face to Face. Mr. Ham, a prominent attorney, was a monument advocate. “My great-grandaddy fought in ‘the good war,’ and there’s no way those monuments are coming down under my watch.” Ms. Loretta was a civil rights icon, who, upon seeing Mr. Ham, pulled me aside and said, “Kevin, what is that monster doing here?” I asked Ms. Loretta to trust me, she said she’d give me an hour. After applying the principles, and pairing them in an initial conversation, Ms. Loretta said, “I don’t know how you did it, Kevin. I still don’t agree with him. And I still don’t like him. But I don’t think he’s a monster anymore.” By creating the right conditions for these adversaries to meet, Face-to-Face, we took was both a small and a giant step toward healing.
The Second Circle Series 2: Getting to Pono (Right Relationship) — Many of us have negative associations with confrontation; we think it is the same as conflict. By exploring the principles of Respectful Confrontation developed by Joe Weston, participants will discover that confrontation is nothing more than open-hearted engagement and ultimately the most effective way to avoid and resolve conflict. At the heart of Respectful Confrontation is the belief that it is possible to stand in one’s power, speak their truth, hear the truth of others, and get needs met in a way that will not inflict harm.
Case Study: After an incident involving local law enforcement and the LGBTQ community, we were called to facilitate Second Circles for some “radical community healing.” After leading four separate circles, we brought the two groups together. Craig, a White cop with fifteen years on the force, was randomly paired with TJ, a Black transgender man, who has been repeatedly targeted by police. In their 10-minute conversation, they experienced “pono” by sharing their common concern that, when they leave home to go to work, they may not live through the day, and see their kids. This moment of realization moved Craig to tears, and he committed to do all that he can to make a difference in the department. TJ promised to be with Craig every step of the way.
The Second Circle Series 3: Standing at the Gates of Hope — In the midst of trying and despairing times, how can we hold hope? Developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the series focuses on support, care, and thriving through times of crisis. This series allows people to talk about the world as it is, and as it could be. And it provides a place where we cannot just struggle, but experience joy in the struggle as we seek solutions for the benefit of all.
Case Study: I facilitated a Second Circle in a deeply red county. Imagine my surprise when 43 people, all White, showed up. During the break, I asked one of the participants why they are all so interested in racial healing. “We’re not interested in that,” Amanda said, as she opened her jacket, showing me the gun she was carrying. “I am a proud and responsible gun owner,” she said. “I also have four sons, and I know there are people in these parts who are recruiting boys like mine do terrible things. You see, it’s not a matter of whether one of these boys is going to shoot up a school, or a church, or a movie theater, it’s a matter of when. And my friends and I need your help to make sure it’s not one of our boys.” Amanda was searching for hope. I changed my agenda, and engaged in a different conversation. As a result, I was invited back to facilitate three more circles, and ultimately trained Amanda and others to be Second Circle facilitators.
Depending on the number of people and the depth of the process, the Second Circle can be offered in a one half-day (3–4 hour) or full-day (6–8 hour) session. The process is most effective when participants engage in a series of circles over time (e.g. 4 monthly circles of 3 hours each). It is important to account for a range of cultural and linguistic considerations as well as participants’ learning and communication styles. Activities engage interactive modes including reflective (writing, silence) and active (conversational, kinesthetic) approaches.
Partnering with local champions — whether they are: governmental agencies; civic or faith-based institutions; community centers; schools, or non-profit organizations — provides the much-needed foundation for circles to succeed.
A second way is to deliver the experience is to take the circle to where people gather. This could be done by embedding healing circles into standing meetings, conferences or established community gatherings. Variations of The Second Circle have been facilitated at family reunions, organizational staff and/or board retreats, conference workshops, schoolrooms, book/discussion groups, or community events.
For more information on The Second Circle, please contact Kevin John Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, we have modified the process to facilitate virtual circles by videoconference. Each circle is 2-hours, and limited to 12 participants.