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March 2017 – Restorative Circles for Citizens in Europe
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March 2017

Bp febr 5.

An Account of the Second Circle in Budapest

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With Euroskeptic and Pro-EU Participants

Written by Boroka Beni

In the project summary we had originally planned to have a homogenous group of euroskeptic participants in the second circle, in February (following a homogenous group of pro-EU participants in the first). However, as the recruitment process took shape, it has become clear that finding individuals holding euroskeptic views and asking them to commit to a three weekend process was more difficult than we had assumed in the beginning. A reason for this might be the fact that a dialogue circle sounds like a liberal methodology and Hungarian people with euroskeptic views may not feel comfortable entering this realm of discussion, even if the facilitators claim that all voices are equally heard in it. “Dialogue” is not only perceived as a liberal process in our country, but is also the name of a liberal party.

Other members of our international team of 27 facilitators faced the same challenge in terms of the composition of the second circle, so we made a decision that starting with the second circle we can hold mixed groups (with both euroskeptic and pro-EU participants) in order to have a sufficient number of participants. In the circle in Budapest approximately half of the group consisted of euroskeptic and the other half of pro-EU participants (previously screened in the registration process).

We began this circle by collecting personal values (as we did in the first circle) to find that the values mentioned and put in the center (on the center piece) were not so different from one another in spite of different opinions. We continued with the same consensus-building game (as we did in the first circle) to discover that participants put an enormous amount of energy into this process. (The group chose to spend 70 minutes with this exercise.) The piece we were building together in the center took different shapes, but there was a certain point in the game that many of us referred to as “grieving” in the discussion following the game. We had a dead body (played by one of the participants), then two women were crying together in the center and someone even put on slow classical music. Sadness and grief are powerfully represented in Hungarian culture, in hymns, folk songs, dramas, and other artistic forms. Hungarian history is also cumbersome with tragic events and lost wars. The recognition of the need to get passed these experiences could also have been the fuel behind the group’s theme of grief.

Our group of three facilitators has decided to focus more on topics related to the EU this time (more than in the first circle). We prepared the group for a role-play exercise by asking participants to look back to their personal experiences at the time when Hungary joined the EU (May 1, 2004). After collecting a list of concerns regarding the European Union in general and voting for the hottest topic, the group chose the following issue: “Do we want to live in a Europe with only white Christian citizens, or with a diverse population?” After asking participants to find their place on an imagined scale we split the group in two and asked the subgroups to prepare for a debate on television. One representative of each group then gave a short speech to support their opinion and answered some questions. We then asked members of the subgroups to switch places with one another to realize how difficult it was to put oneself in other’s shoes and how little they understood each other’s point of view. Finally we used the circle process to reflect on experiences in the role-play exercise and to move towards more personal stories about how our opinions have developed. Even though during the first day of the weekend many participants expressed their shock about opinions coming from others (such as: “The nation needs a strong leader, because dictatorship is more effective than democracy.”), near the end of the weekend, after hearing the stories behind the opinions and having spent some time together, building relationships, the group came to a level of intuitive understanding and members expressed the need to continue the discussion. We were happy to find that the two representatives of the two subgroups spent the lunch break sitting at the same table “building a nation” – as they said when they reported back in the circle. In general, the process was a fruitful experience for many of us, because we realized that our initial assumption that the circle can hold diverse opinions and lead to understanding even in polarized groups proved to be valid.


An Account of the First Circle in Budapest

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With Pro-EU Participants

Written by Boroka Beni

A group of committed men and women answered our call to participate in the first restorative circle in Budapest, in January, 2017. Committed to the Hungarian EU membership and to a dialogue process regarding issues related to this membership. In the circle process we collected participants’ personal values and practiced consensus-building through a game to discover that finding common solutions requires our active involvement.

Surprisingly, the collection of guidelines (answering the question “how will we talk to each other?”) posed a great challenge for this group. It was very tricky to find common ground, but by the end of the weekend we managed to do so. One interesting issue that came up in this discussion was whether empathy should be a requirement for all participants in the dialogue. One man stated that he cannot be expected to be empathic towards someone holding fascist views, for example. Nor Bolshevik views, added another. (A typical ideological split in our nation.) A solution for this concern was to accept all emotions as valid but not all views as valid. To give another example, many participants mentioned the difficulty to embody certain guidelines (such as patience, nonviolence, or respectfulness) previously put on the board, so members of our group decided to aim for these guidelines instead of feeling inadequate about not representing them. It is indeed an important shift in our perception to focus on the positive rather than dwell on the negative – widely needed in our country.

The function of guidelines, along with other tools in a restorative circle, such as the talking piece, is to decrease the power of the facilitators and give leadership to the group instead. Some participants repeatedly insisted that we, the facilitators continue to control the outcome, but we neglected to do so. This intervention (or the lack of) made some feel like the situation is chaotic. Quite normal in democratic communities, I might add.

During the rest of the weekend our team of three circle keepers was preparing participants to engage in dialogue with others holding different views. Some of this work was done through the topic of the EU and the Hungarian EU membership, and some through personal stories. We based this process on our previous knowledge and common experience that many Hungarian people become reactive (rather than remaining reflective) when it comes to controversial political, economic and social issues. Historically there is no common language in the Hungarian language to hold these difficult conversations. Two examples of the topics we touched are: 1)“Tell us a story where you strongly disagreed with someone and managed to understand each other in the end!”; and 2) after the visualization of someone who holds different opinions working with the questions: “Why do you assume their opinions are so different?” and “How could you respond to their opinions?” Participants were immensely involved in these exercises. Additionally, a conflict situation within the group spontaneously presented itself: one participant stated that she will not sit in the same circle with another, after discovering her association with a political party. Later on she even left the room. It was the refused participant (the ex-member of the refused political party) who went after her. The two women came back to the circle together in about twenty minutes, talking and laughing.

Finally, our understanding was that participants are excited about the upcoming circle and are looking forward to meeting people who hold different (euroskeptic) views. A motivation rarely experienced in contemporary Hungarian society.