If you are a dreamer, come in
If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar
A hoper, a prayer, a magic bean buyer ...
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
- The Invitation by Shel Silverstein
I love using Shel Silverstein’s poem to introduce circles to students and staff, because circles are about inviting people in. They’re about inviting everyone, and every part of everyone—the good, the bad and the ugly—because we’re all made up of all these different parts. We all have our good days and our bad days, we have our good and bad sides. It’s what makes us human. And we all have things to learn and things to teach. (In fact in my original language, which is Dutch, the word for teaching and learning is the same.)
After we’ve read the poem aloud, I invite those in the circle who consider themselves dreamers to stand up and to explain why. I ask everyone to look at the dreamers in their midst before inviting them sit back down. I’ll do the same for the pretenders and the liars in the group. With adults there's often some hesitation when I invite the liars to stand up, less so with kids. But ultimately, in every group, young or old, we have a conversation about the kind of lies we tell others and ourselves. It’s very interesting to hear people talk about how they view themselves, quite openly, this early in a circle process.
Next, I might say a little more about circles, how they’re structured, their history and why we use them.* But very quickly I'll send the talking piece around to encourage others to start sharing, to tell stories, to connect, all within the circle structure.
I'll invite people to reflect on the idea of welcoming everyone and every part of everyone. For my center piece, I have values (respect, honesty, fairness...) written on index cards, placed around a colorful beaded necklace from the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
I’ll invite people to look at these values, as I send the talking piece around, asking what it would take for them to be able to bring all of who they are to the circle; what value do they feel is important to honor as a group, so that they can feel comfortable and safe sharing different parts of themselves?
When people start talking about what values are important to them, they set the stage for a deeper kind of story telling. Because ultimately, circles are about building, strengthening and repairing human connection through the age-old art of story telling.
By spinning our flax golden tales we are able to find meaning and make sense of the world around us; we are able to provide the connective tissue needed for our communities to come together and remain intact.
* See a description of the basic circle process and elements here.