RE: Building "community"
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 94 15:00 CST
 Geoff Mamlet and Hannah Bloch asked:

3)  What are some resources you've found helpful for learning how to build

One of the best community building resources we have found at 
Sharingwood is ourselves.  We spend time each month, in a special, 
members only gathering, called a sharing circle.  Within this circle we 
talk about things which are bothering us, things we appreciate about 
each other, things about ourselves such as stories from our childhood, 
our ancestors, our hopes and dreams, influential moments and people, etc.

Within the context of this sharing I have learned more about my fellow 
communitarians than I know about some of my own family members.  
Sharing circles are not mandatory, and some people do not come.  This 
is OK, those who want to build community, get involved, those who do 
not, don't.

Sharing Circles have a special format, with some special ground rules 
attached.  The basic ground rules are: 1. Honor the circle, every one 
speaks in turn if they wish, but it is not OK to jump in when it is not 
your turn.  (this allows you time to think about what you are going to 
say among other things) 2. Speak for yourself with I statements.  I 
feel, I think, I believe... For example if I am feeling grumpy or 
disappointed about the lack of help in the garden over the weekend I 
would say: " I really felt disappointed that no one else except me was 
working in the garden on Saturday. I feel I do too much of the work and 
that makes me angry sometimes."   3. Be willing to listen to  what 
people say with an open heart, even if it is about you. (you don't have 
to accept what they say, just listen without defensiveness)  4.  Be 
honest, admit your weaknesses, accept responsibility for your actions.

Sharing circles often work best when they are guided by a specific 
concern, issue or sharing but it is also important to let people speak 
on whatever they need to talk about. People just speak, one at a time 
around a circle.  Having  something to hold such as a candle in a 
basket or a talking stick can give shy folks something to focus on as 
they speak.

You can get started doing  sharing circles by just talking about your 
lives in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. A great place to start 
is to ask people to answer the question: "I want my community to be a 
place where....." At another circle you can share childhood stories, 
work details, personal histories, etc.  It may take awhile to build 
enough trust before people will begin expressing their feelings about 
current issues and situations so don't push that at first unless you 
really badly need to, and then it might be best to use a trained 
counselor such as family counselor as a facilitator.

 Sharing circles  are designed to help you learn about each other, not 
resolve problems. Sometimes issues will arise that will seem to ask for 
some sort of action. This is good.  Take that action item to the next 
business meeting. Don't let sharing circles degenerate into business 
meetings. There should never be any decisions made at a sharing circle, 
sharing circles are for sharing feelings, not coming to solutions.

Creating a process for open honest feelings communication is one of the 
strongest community bonding experiences you can create.  Learning about 
each other, beyond your meeting styles, is what bonds people together.  
Give it a try, it's easy and can do amazing things for the people who 
choose to be involved.

Rob Sandelin

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