“People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they will react. But if you say, we want peace, we want stability, we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.”
- Nelson Mandela
I remember working at a camp where two eight-ish year old boys were furious with each other. I was the assistant director and a counselor brought the boys to me to “figure it out”. Like most organizations that work with kids, we had a zero tolerance bullying policy, a policy against hitting each other, a policy against… you name it. There were a lot of policies and the people that made the policies are great people. People who care about kids and want the best for them.
So these boys, let’s call them Eric and Reese, were very upset. There had been an altercation in the bath house in which Eric claimed Reese had pushed him and Reese denied it, saying, “Eric SHOWED ME HIS…” There were a lot of details and many of those details didn't line up. I didn’t know what to do. I didn't have good strategies, tactics, or a philosophy that made sense to me in this situation. All I knew was that the kids were mad, the counselor had no idea what to do, and my boss expected me to fix it.
So we went for a walk.
When it was just the boys and me, they calmed down. We threw some rocks, — there was a policy against that too — talked about other stuff, and saw some parts of camp they didn’t know existed. Finally, without any prompting, Eric apologized to Reese for showing him his …, Reese apologized to Eric for pushing him, and I thought I was a genius. Eric and Reese were now deeply engrossed in a friendly discussion about who the coolest Avenger is.
Patting myself on the back, I walked them back to their cabin and headed down to the office to tell everyone how smart I was. Turns out, I am an idiot. Back in the office, our director had heard about the pushing and the exposure. He says the kids have to go home. We have a zero tolerance policy for bullying and hitting.
WHAT!? I can’t believe it. I argue and argue and get no where. Eric and Reese get sent home. They “needed to learn a lesson”. What lesson!? That rules are all that matter? To never trust adults because they will kick you out if you are honest and open?
They are confused, I am confused, and the policy continues. Lesson learned.
Here is the lesson kids learn in most situations with adults: You can avoid punishment by denying wrongdoing, keeping your head down, or simply saying sorry.
Instead of asking them to change, let’s change the system. Instead of having a system designed to cover our asses, lets build a system that encourages Eric and Reese have that conversation and as long as people feel safe, let’s trust them when they are ready to move on.
The Stomping Ground Circle System
Laura Kriegel has developed what we call the Circle System. It isn’t quite perfect, but moves us by quantum leaps in the direction we want to go.
The goal of the Circle System is to heal harm, to mitigate future harm, and to build community. The Circle System is a super simple idea that basically says, let’s talk about it and brainstorm together how to get what we are wanting.
The hard part is we have to build trust within the community that the grownups involved won’t mess it up. This will help ensure that kids voices will be heard, listened to, and respected. It takes the power away from policy and puts it into the hands of the people involved in the conflict.
Below is a video that describes how the system is structured.
Call/Text/Email Laura to learn more
You can read more about what has inspired our Circle Process
Laura’s Time at The Circle School - A Democratic School
Compassion and Mindfulness at Summer Camp