Friday, January 3, 2014

Circles for Compassionate Listening

Upon thinking on Crime & Punishment - and Compassion.

There's been a heaviness on my heart these past couple days. The sister (Julie Paskall) of my uncle-in-law was mugged, beaten, and left for dead while waiting to pick up her son from hockey practice in Surrey, B.C. She died on New Year's day. I didn't know her but I am moved all the same because people I know and love, knew and loved her dearly. I am deeply saddened that my family & friends now experience pain & sorrow as the New Year dawns.

I find what evokes a great sadness within me further is the reaction of vengeance & rage by the larger community (locally and across the nation), towards the perpetrator who committed the horrific crime. I can not help to think of how wounded an individual might be to act in such a way as to cause such harm to another individual. Not only do I question where did he/she go wrong - but if it takes a village to raise a child - where did we go wrong? While I can understand rage as one reaction towards this abhorrent act, I find myself thinking, "It's not helpful".  It's not helpful for healing our grief, nor for healing the brokenness in this world including what brings about such acts of social injustice.

I feel strongly that in order to create healthy communities (ideally free from acts alike this), we need to exercise compassion for all no matter the role they play. I do not expect this to be easy especially for those directly affected by such matters - I do believe, however, that CIrcle can help with this.

One aspect that draws me towards Circle is its aspect of "Compassionate Listening". In Circle, everyone gets to have a say, no matter who they are, what they do or have done, or where they come from. Everyone gets to be included.  Imagine inviting this 'perpetrator' to a Circle and listening to their story. Perhaps it may feel similar to inviting your enemy over for tea. But who is the enemy? I have heard it said that an "enemy is simply one whose story we haven't heard". While we might not like what everyone has to say, nor approve of their ideas or behaviours - there needs to be a place for every person to share their story including the people we name outcast, un-loveable or undesirable.  Each person, whether we have an affinity for them or not, is a part of the whole we call "community".

This reminds me of something I learned back in undergraduate university that further demonstrates this idea of compassion for all: (Disclaimer: The following is what I remember (paraphrased) from over 10 years ago - if the details of this are misrepresented, I welcome edification from the first nations peoples identified here. I mean no disrespect). 

There is a dance & ritual that the Kwakiutl first nation peoples in North western B.C. are known for that exemplifies the notion of compassion for the 'worst offender' in the community. It is called the Hamasta dance, a.k.a. the Cannibal dance. The dance involves an initiate who takes on cannibal-like features to portray a way of being imagined to be the worst in the community (one who would eat another). The elders then step in and begin to act out the calming of the beast-like human and reintroducing him back into the community (he is restored to human form). The underlining message of the dance is to signify that there is no act too abhorrent that can not be forgiven by others, and no act likewise that will result in one's exclusion from the community. The overtone of compassion of this ritual has left me asking ever since, "Where is (or what is) the Hamatsa dance for us today in mainstream society?" One answer I have found is this: Circle.  For listening to the stories of others (in the safe social space that Circle allows for where meaningful speaking & respectful listening can happen), has way of evoking empathy within us. And if we are able to empathize, we are able to forgive, and through forgiveness we can heal.

While it's likely not realistic to see those that have harmed us sitting eye-to-eye within Circle with us - nor in some cases would it be safe or possible - we can however imagine what it might be like. Would we be able to listen to their stories, really listen? What might we learn about our selves in the process? Circle is also a process for discovering self.

So here is my challenge: Share your story. Be it about Julie, or another story where you have experienced harm or injustice. Invite others to share their stories too. Call a Circle to speak & listen from the heart about such matters. Find someone to keep the Circle space, or draw upon Circle resources (see list below) to facilitate your own. Hold to the intention and trust in the process.

And finally, for all of you out there who now grief & celebrate the life of Julie Paskall - may you find comfort, light and love in your time of sorrow.  May you never lose your joy for life, your hope for tomorrow, or your love for humankind - and may the peace that passes all understanding rest upon your soul and in your hearts today and always.

* * *

Here are some resources
that deal particularly with restorative justice matters and peace-keeping solutions:

Pranis, Kay, Barry Stuart & Mark Wedge. 2003. Peacemaking Circles: From Crime to Community. United States: Living Justice Press.

Pranis, Kay. 2005. The Little Book of Circle Processes. United States: Good Books.

Here are some other amazing CIrcle resources including my own (Circlebee):

Baldwin, Christina. 1998. Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.

Baldwin, Christina & Ann Linnea. 2010. The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair. San Francisco, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Bolen, Jean. 1999. The Millionth Circle: How to Change Ourselves and the World – The Essential Guide to Women’s Circles. York Beach, Maine: Conari Press.

Cameron, Laura. 2013. Circlebee: A book about Circle & bees. Chilliwack, B.C.: Bumblebee Circle Publishing.

Carnes, Robin Deen & Sally Craig. 1998. Sacred Circles: A Guide to Creating Your Own Women’s Spirituality Group. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

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