“I worked in government for three years, doing third party consultations on the British Columbia Treaty Process. It was coalface level democracy. I was talking to citizens – some of them with truly odious opinions – about a historic public policy initiative that had the possibility to permanently change their way of life. They were not customers, but citizens, with every right to expect that we would treat them the way citizens should be treated in a democracy. It was not about getting them to “buy in” to what we were doing; it was about operating from the fundamental premise that, collectively, they required a place to express their ownership of their country. That doesn’t mean that everyone gets what he or she wants, because in a democracy you have to balance rights and interests.” ~ Chris Corrigan, Citizens or Customers
Some rich experiences have happened to me recently inside a group I contribute to. Along with some other principles, our approach is:
- we use The Circle Way as our way of working
- we have roles from which we are empowered to act
- when we want to do something (e.g. make a decision, pursue an action), we seek input from those who would be impacted by making a proposal and then, most often using a combination of council and thumbs voting, we harvest insights for a stronger proposal and wiser action
Thumbs voting is: thumbs up if you support the proposal, thumbs sideways if you have some concerns, thumbs down for “no”. After the show of thumbs, if there are any thumbs down or sideways, invite those people to share why and what would improve the proposal for them.
In my recent experiences, the person shared their proposal and we had a round of talking piece council to speak our comments or clarifying questions. I had differing views and was able to share my thoughts and concerns, as well as listen to everyone else around the rim; sensing into the wisdom emerging from the middle of our council. When it came time for the thumbs vote my thumb was sideways (nearly everyone else was a thumbs up).
This wasn’t a stalemate or a failure. This is the beauty of circle and our process. Our group isn’t working with a model of requiring unanimous agreement, but rather one that ensures every voice is heard, that the collective intelligence informs decision-making, and that no one person can derail the process.
I had the chance to speak my perspective to the centre and we heard from others around the rim. There was space for respectful disagreement and moving forward. It is as Chris wrote in the beginning excerpt, “that doesn’t mean that everyone gets what he or she wants, because in a democracy you have to balance rights and interests.”
In The Circle Way, we gather together with our purpose and possibility in the centre and invite each voice to speak – welcoming the leadership and wisdom that is in each chair. And there is a dance: asking for what we need, offering what we can, while contributing to the well-being of the group.
I love that these experiences have taught me new depth to these principles and practices of circle.