circles_thessaloniki_january_2Two groups of people made the step into joining the Circle, as of January ’17, in Athens and Thessaloniki, and proved with their presence in whole that they believe this to be a step in the right direction, both in a level of self-improvement and of creative concern regarding the European Union. This is the subject of these experiential seminars that Interalia has launched through “Europe for Citizens” program.

Focusing on the Thessaloniki case, the positive vibe set in by the participants referring to human values and ideals. In another part of the procedure, they discussed how well these values flourish inside the EU and proposed ways of helping this improve.

The people that were involved in the Circle of 28-29 January proved in the act their interest for the issue of the European Unification and its progress. At the same time, the participants shared experiences and through them they dug into each other’s opinions, something that is necessary for the group bonding of the Circle. In what matters regarding the concept of European Citizen, the subject of education was raised particularly, where for many of them non-typical education makes for a channel through which good practices must be forwarded, as well as the subject of efficient information.

Moreover, a series of creative activities took place and by this, suggestions for improvement of the existing channels of bidirectional communication between citizens and institutions of authority and implementation of the EU policies were formed. Surely, in times so tense, the refugee issue could not be left out, as also the concepts of xenophobia and humanity.

Great concerns were raised also as to how well EU could become a human-centered Union, above economy. The participants stigmatized yet the fact that polarized rhetoric, stereotypes and nationalization of human characteristics often dominate, both in a citizen and in an elected representatives and institutions of European authority level.

Positively charged from the whole experience of the Circle, most of the participants stated that the values of the Circle procedure should be amplified even more, specifically referring to openness, respecting and be able to hear your interlocutor with caution and freedom of expression. Indeed, all those inside the Circle deeply appreciated the sum of the opinions that were shared in the passing of these two days.

Coming from different start lines, the participants agreed that active involvement should be encouraged in all levels of society and through this comes the amplification of the consciousness of European citizen in every one. Lastly, everybody spoke of the positive qualities that an active citizen must possess, how close to that each one of them stands and how often do they meet them in the society each one lives in.

It was a stimulating and creative weekend and the anticipation for the next Circles builds up!

????????????????????????????????????Restorative Circles for Citizens in Europe: an experience

Sense and emotions before needs

In a world where societies become more and more digitalized and wired (one might say fenced) with individuality being the core of them, what has a method that restores the essence of dialogue got to offer; Where its limits arise and what can one participant expect from it?

Restorative Circles come a long way and, if I may add my personal opinion right from the start, they have a long way to go. They may not change the world, but for sure they can change those who participate in them. In our case, we dealt with matters related to the European Unification, but the dynamic of the procedure was such that opened up issues of broader social –and personal also- interest.

The notions they embody and empower are not strange to the present; on the contrary we often find them at the tip of our tongue. But still, it seems that in practice they are forced out of many heads. One has to admit that the place where openness, active and substantive listening, empathy and respect for the opinion of others, is occupied by synapses that pop up gifs, emoticons, etc. . In this way, we miss the reality there is and live inside a slightly different one.

Most will have a hard time explaining what every “like” and “dislike” of hers/his means, every vote he/she has taken, every slogan or chant he/she has yelled, every social presence of his/hers. At the same time, we can speak more easily and take a stand for some of the values of the dialogue that Restorative Circles focus. And yet our communication fills up with the former, leaving all the more less space for the latter or anything else.

The past six months that I actively take part (there is no passive way) in the meetings of the Restorative Circles, I have discussed with people that our everyday lives build a distance between us, that our tastes and our views in socio-political issues differ. I have learned a great many. No, my views haven’t capsized, neither have I “enlightened” some other participant. I saw as much reality my eyes could see. That is from having my blinders taken off. Blinders that we all believe and affirm we don’t wear, but they are here and they alter or hide reality from us.

Light is shed on the fact that the many other opinions that there are, have their space in the public sphere, affect people and shape situations. The atmosphere that is carefully and methodically cultivated inside the procedure of the Circles brought me and all of the participants in a position to listen without getting angry, mocking, prioritizing my arguments; without interrupting.

The experience under review is a liberating one. An environment that invites you to express yourself shapes ideas that lurk in the shadows of your mind into thoughts, ideas that were afraid to be expressed and thus confront the relentless cruelty of “public discourse”. When you are able to speak out and let it out, a regenerative breath is being brought in. Nothing is spoken of for the sake of outbreak or to make an impression. It all infiltrates in the thoughts of the participants, lead the discourse on and bear fruit.

I am referring to things that “go without saying”, yet we find them to be missing at home, school, the café, tv and the internet. A logical procedure that restores sensible parameters on how to approach, deal and interact with our interlocutors.

Nevertheless, on a six months project one does not rely solely on sense. During this period of time cracks can be easily found, for emotions to slip in the Circle and put gravity to certain moments. There were times that more powers and responsibility were demanded from the facilitators to keep focus and balance from being lost. Yet, those moments stand out in their preciousness, as they introduced us to the people beyond the interlocutors and have established relationships free of labels, based in humanity.

We experienced the grief and the pain; we witnessed confessions and opened up our hearts, taking our turn. Pulse went fast and facial expressions were altered when the participants spoke of changes and reforms that were not completed, of humanity that – sadly – often becomes invisible, of the authority’s perception about democracy and European unification, even of “incurable bad habits” of many members of our society.

On the contrary, we shared loving memories and common experiences, things that create a joyful atmosphere, opening the path for other positive emotions. Optimism grew stronger whenever we reached unanimity, with every collective conclusion and with every useful outcome our Circle gave us. Alternation was intense, but the participants were stimulated appropriately and more and more accustomed that they justified each time the potential of the Circles, while the triptych of respect-openness-empathy led the way.

Reaching the afterword, I should present arguments founding the happy and optimistic character of my writings. Firstly, the Restorative Circles meet the needs of the members of a contemporary society, even more true, of every society. They establish collectiveness in a simple yet solid way and they provide the necessary space for ideas and emotions to come out. They also secure and enrich sincere and interactive communication.

These needs are common among all people; still they are often dealt with wrongly or inadequately. Conclusively, as I already wrote, Restorative Circles won’t change the world, for sure not directly. Nevertheless, by meeting these socially fundamental needs, we achieve in having more and more people that act in a way that is positive for the society in which they belong, being at the same time closer and closer to inner peace and harmony.

Thus, out of small, everyday changes, grow the hope that the numbers of healthy cells of our societies grow bigger; by extension, this could apply for EU as well. In our case this evolution may have more to offer than a political-financial proposition that would come up. “May” is used for the sake of conversation, as I, personally, believe in the answers given above.

Alexandros Somataridis

Facilitator of Restorative Circles

Greek National Coordinator of the project Restorative Circles for Citizens in Europe