Early in my career, I co-led a victim-offender mediation program.

It was the first adult criminal court diversion program in the province of Alberta and we would work with the Chief Crown Prosecutor to choose referrals. We would work together to determine which criminal cases might have benefit to experience a more reconciliative approach to justice vs a punishment (or retributive) approach to justice.

A key part of our process was using circles.

I remember one case where a young woman was charged with assault for hitting her support worker in a group home.

My co-circle keeper and I gathered together the person charged, the support worker, the staff who would be there for the employee and people who were there for the young woman charged (including her parents and her therapist).

It was an emotionally charged and well-attended circle.

Having all these community perspectives represented meant that a solution could be worked out that had more heart and humanity than if the young woman had been fined or (worse) sent to jail.

Instead, she was able to hear and be moved by the harm she had caused and together the community worked out a new plan to offer more support to all in a different way. The community was called closer together when the conflict happened and the community was a key part of the healing.

Bill Ury, of the Harvard negotiation project, tells the story of the San peoples of Southern Africa, indigenous hunter-gatherers who have lived like our ancestors lived for much of human history.

The men have deadly poison arrows for hunting. When conflict arises between members of the community, and temperature rises, someone hides the poison arrows. Then everyone in the community sits around in a circle and talks and talks until the conflict is resolved.

As an anthropologist, Ury believes such a system is responsible for keeping the entire human race alive. You can check out a summary of some of his findings here.

The longer I work in the conflict space, the more I see the necessity for circles. I recently had the privilege of working with a group of leaders, some of whom were indigenous and served an indigenous population. The imperative of circles came up again.

We need circles as spaces where our communities can come together and speak about itself to itself. Circles are a place to nurture ourselves and each other in our bonds of commonality. Circles also serve as natural conflict resolution mechanisms.

This article by Ken Acher on circles is also informative. I hope you are inspired as well to think about where you might be able to experiment with circles.