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An Account of the First Circle in Budapest – Restorative Circles for Citizens in Europe

An Account of the First Circle in Budapest

By March 6, 2017home page blog

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.