These Guiding Principles of Consultation, Talking Circles Steps for Taking Unified Action and a Non-Political Process for Electing Community Leadership are increasingly being utilized, in various, related forms, in Indigenous and other communities of the Human Family in more than 10,000 locations and 182 Nations, Territories and Islands around Mother Earth. There are many other dedicated, principle-centered movements that are currently unfolding a new, sustainable, harmonious, peaceful Global Civilization. We can learn from all!
Principles of Consultation
1. Respect each participant and appreciate each other’s diversity. This is the prime requisite for consultation.
2. Value and consider all contributions. Belittle no one. Withhold evaluation until sufficient information has been gathered.
3. Contribute and express opinions with complete freedom.
4. Carefully consider the views of others — if a valid point of view has been offered, accept it as your own.
5. Keep to the mission at hand. Extraneous conversation may be important to team building, but it is not consultation, which is solution driven.
6. Share in the group’s unified purpose — desire for success of the mission.
7. Expect the truth to emerge from the clash of differing opinions. Optimum solutions emerge from diversity of opinion.
8. Once stated, let go of opinions. Don’t try to ‘‘defend’’ your position, but, rather let it go. Ownership causes disharmony among the team and almost always gets in the way of finding the truth.
9. Contribute to maintaining a friendly atmosphere by speaking with courtesy, dignity, care, and moderation. This will promote unity and openness.
10. Seek consensus. But if consensus is impossible, let the majority rule. Remember, though, that decisions, once made, become the decision of every participant. After the group has decided, dissenting opinions are destructive to the success of the mission. When decisions are undertaken with total group support, wrong decisions can be more fully observed and corrected.
Guidelines for Talking, Healing, and Sharing Circles
Talking, sharing and healing circles are useful when the topic under consideration has no right or wrong answer, or when people need to share feelings. Moral or ethical issues can often be dealt with in this way without offending anyone. The purpose of talking circles is to create a safe environment for people to share their point of view and experiences with others. This process helps people gain a sense of trust in each other. They come to believe that what they say will be listened to and accepted without criticism. They also gain an appreciation for points of view other than their own. During the circle time, people are free to respond however they want as long as they follow these guidelines.
- All comments should be addressed directly to the question or issue, not to comments that another participant has made. Both negative and positive comments about what anyone else in the circle says should be avoided. Just say what you want to say in a positive manner. Speak from the heart.
- Only one person speaks at a time. Everyone else should be listening in a non-judgmental way to what the speaker is saying. Some groups find it useful to signify in some way who has the floor. Going around the circle systematically is one way to achieve this. Another is to use some object (such as a stone or stick) which the person who is speaking holds and then passes to the next person who has indicated a desire to speak.
- Silence is an acceptable response. No one should be pressured at any time to contribute if they feel reticent to do so. There must be no negative consequences, however subtle, for saying “I pass.”
- At the same time, everyone must feel invited to participate. Some mechanism for ensuring that a few vocal people don’t dominate the discussion should be built in. For instance, no one speaks twice until everyone in the circle has been given the opportunity to speak once. An atmosphere of patient and non-judgmental listening usually helps the shy people to speak out and the louder ones to moderate their participation. Going around the circle in a systematic way, inviting each person to participate simply by mentioning each name in turn can be an effective way to even out participation.
- It is often better to hold talking circles in groups of five to fifteen rather than with a large group, because in smaller groups everyone has time to say what they need to say without feeling pressured by time.
- The group leader facilitates the discussion by acknowledging contributions in a non-judgmental way (that is, by avoiding comments such as “good comment” or “great” which can be seen as making comparisons between different contributions), and by clarifying comments when necessary, (e.g. “If I understand what you’re saying, you’re…”).
- No comments which put down others or ourselves are allowed. Some agreed-upon way of signaling the speaker when this is occurring should be established. Self put downs include such comments as, “I don’t think anyone will agree with me, but…” or “I’m not very good at…”
- Speakers should feel free to express themselves in any way that is comfortable: by sharing a personal story, by using examples or metaphors, by making analytical statements, etc.
- Some groups have found it useful to encourage participants to focus on consciously sending the speaker loving and compassionate feelings. In this way listeners are supporting the speaker and not tuning out so they can think about what they will say when it is their turn.(Excerpted from The Sacred Tree Curriculum Guide produced by The Four Worlds International Institute, 1988)
STEPS FOR TAKING UNIFIED ACTION
Define the problem clearly. Make sure everyone has the same understanding of what is being discussed. It may help to write the question or issue down where everyone can see it.
- Identify the human values or spiritual principles which are related to the issue. It can be helpful to think about both the principles and values which should be part of the solution and the values/principles whose violation has helped to cause the problem.
- Gather information which might help you make a good decision. This information may be held as common knowledge by the group members and merely needs to be made explicit. Other times research may need to be undertaken by consulting relevant literature or talking to various kinds of people (both “experts” and “ordinary citizens“). Do not try to make a decision or to evaluate the information while you are gathering it.
- Make sure everyone in the group understands all the information that has been gathered.
- Give everyone the opportunity to express their opinion about what should be done, based on the guiding principles which have been identified. Everyone should have the opportunity to speak once before anyone speaks twice.
- Avoid taking offence at the point of view put forward by someone else. It is out of the clash of differing point of view that a creative solution is found. In the same spirit, avoid speaking in ways which will be offensive to others.
- Don’t hold on to your point of view. Once it has been given to the circle, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. You don’t have to keep defending it.
- After all the participants have contributed their ideas; the facilitator (or any other group member) should try to synthesize what has been said into a course of action which everyone can agree on.
- Anyone who feels that an important point has not been taken into consideration in this synthesis should be given the chance to speak again.
- Steps 5 to 9 can be repeated several times until a consensus is reached. If, during this process, it becomes evident that a vital piece of information is lacking, be sure to get it before proceeding.
- Use a majority vote as a last resort if complete consensus can’t be reached.
- Once a decision has been reached, it is important for everyone to support it wholeheartedly, even if you are not in full agreement. Through this type of united action, any flaws in the plan will be revealed and can be remedied without hard feelings or conflict.
PROCESS FOR ELECTING COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP
Step One – Prayer
Each, in their own way, asks the Creator (or however we designate a Higher Power or source of inspiration), for guidance and direction so that this Higher Power may guide everyone involved in the election process. Pray enough so everyone at the election meeting is truly connected heart and mind with their Higher Power.
Step Two – Consultation
Discuss the qualities of good leaders, and particularly those qualities needed in leadership for this time and situation. Do not discuss individual names – only the qualities a leader should have.
Step Three – Reflection, Prayer and Meditation
Reflect (think deeply) about the qualities needed in those chosen for leaders in the situation. Then think about whom best combines those qualities from among the circle and community; consider everyone. Without the least trace of prejudice and with an open and loving heart, ask the Creator to guide you to make the best choice.
Step Four – Vote
Write down the names of the people for whom you have been guided to vote. Do not discuss your choices with anyone before or after the vote. Your choice is between you and the Creator. The number of names you vote for should equal the number of positions on the council. If your ballot has less or more names it will not be counted.
Step Five – Count the Vote
A special committee of four scrutineers (vote counters) is chosen by those at the election meeting. The scrutineers count the number of votes each person receives. The people with the most votes are chosen. This is called a “plurality vote”.
For example, if the election is to choose seven council members, then the seven people with the highest number of votes are selected. The person with the most votes has the responsibility to call the first meeting of the council. Beyond that, it is not important how many votes each council member received.
If there is a tie in the voting for the last position on the council, then a vote is held to break the tie. The vote is between only the people who tied. For example, if the election is to choose seven council members and there is a tie between the sixth and seventh number of votes, then a vote is held to break the tie. If there is a tie between the second and third, or fourth and fifth number of votes, no vote is necessary since it is clear they have been selected.
Step Six – Acceptance and Support
Everyone in the community must now give their whole-hearted and unreserved support to those that are chosen. No one should speak secretly against those elected. Rather, everyone should now rally behind the council, pray for them, share their best ideas and insights with them
and cooperate to insure the success of everyone in promoting the healing and development of the people.
Step Seven – Servant Leadership
The newly chosen council members should show the utmost humility at all times and should approach their work in the attitude of loving service to the community. They should actively solicit (ask for) the views and opinions of community members, and work very hard to insure that the real leaders are the people and the council, their servants.