italy_groupTHE CIRCLE METHODOLOGY, A HOPE FOR DIALOGUE

What follows is a reflection on the RCCE project from a participant of the circles held in Milan. It is a very peculiar feedback, coming from a non-EU citizen. The author, Timothy, comes from USA, but lived in different European cities over the last ten years. Restorative Circles for Citizens in Europe is the first European project he had the possibility to attend. 

I was privileged and pleased to attend the meetings of the project “Restorative Circles for Citizens in Europe” held in Milan from January to June 2017. It was my first experience with the Circles philosophy. I was particularly interested to apply the Circles methodology in relationship to the European project. Through the Circles encounter I was able to listen, to speak, to share, and to learn from the other participants. As an American living in Europe I valued this opportunity to engage with my adopted community, which I care about and to which I attempt to positively contribute. The Circles project gave me hope for dialogue and mutual investment in society, which is especially important these days.

The Circles spirit of cooperation and collaboration made a powerful impression on me. I learned about the significance of the physical circle at the center of our group as well as the symbolic circle that we all held in common. I quickly relaxed and comfortable with the individuals around me. They quickly went from being strangers to neighbors. As we moved around the circle and discussed our values and ourselves, I learned that the Circles methodology is something that serves to unite very different people in a unique and intimate way. The long period of introducing the Circle and of establishing our code of conduct was an excellent prelude to discuss the main question of citizens in Europe in 2017. Everyone took mutual ownership of the project as also learned to respect one another’s contributions. Above all, the token piece was an excellent object and symbol to regulate speech and to pace the discussion.

My experience was very positive. We took time to answer a series of linked questions regarding the concept of Europe, the European project, and our own experiences of the European project. I am an American but have lived and worked in many European countries over the last ten years. Thus I have my own perspective and experience of the European project, which I value and regard in a positive manner. This proved to be useful and especially constructive as we interacted with one another in group. During the process of listening, speaking, and responding we developed our thoughts and were able to think through the questions posed to us. We found unity in our diversity.

The very first question asked to the circle from our facilitators was a very simple one, namely, “What do you think regarding the European project?” Our group considered divisions and also shared points among European nations and peoples. We related this to the concept of our circle held in common. We also discussed the question of immigration using the Circles philosophy of welcome and accommodation. As part of an attempt to consider an improved European project, we discussed strengthening the European institutions and in particular the European parliament. One point that emerged was that the European institutions and project needed to become more transparent and effectively communicate with European citizens, just as the Circles philosophy encourages honesty and discussion. This could strengthen Europe and engage its people. Our group produced interesting and diverse responses, which were always respectfully guided by our token piece.

In my opinion, the Circles philosophy is well adapted to a discussion of the European project: both are communal projects with communal goals. For example, the Circle considered the question of a universal basic income as guarantee of human dignity and security. This could strengthen European society by providing opportunities for personal development and employment. The Circles methodology provided us with an opportunity to consider that the European project is and ought to be primarily organized for its citizens. A strong component of this social focus needs to be the development of the social state, which is a defining characteristic of Europe in the last sixty years. A stronger social state could also better address the question of young people in Europe, providing them with opportunities to develop their talents and then to use them in the European Union. The European Project and the Circles Project are both focused on development and support of their citizen participants.

Davide Boniforti, Carlo Pistoni and Emanuele Murra were excellent facilitators for our Circles meetings. They explained the methodology and philosophy very clearly. They also positioned themselves as members of the Circle rather than as individuals in positions of power. Because of them the encounter proceeded very well. They were prepared and attentive to the participants. They connected with the participants, who were very diverse. At the same time they advanced the project and facilitated our discussion in a warm yet professional way. Davide and Carlo’s training as psychologists and familiarity with the Circles methodology were both very valuable.

The experience of the “Restorative Circles for Citizens in Europe” made a very positive impression upon me. I had never encountered the Circles methodology and philosophy but immediately appreciated it. I particularly valued its use of the symbol of the circle and the token piece, as well as the activities designed to bring the participants together in an atmosphere of mutual support and involvement. I am looking forward to a new serie of meetings to continue our discussion of the European project for 2018 and beyond.
Timothy D. Thomas