Genuine Community Circles: The Acid Test: Allowing “Voice”

Here’s another inspired post in Noelle Pollet’s Genuine Community Circle Series. See her earlier posts for more information called Genuine Community Circles and Getting Started with Genuine Community Circles.

Gem for the Day:

The most precious thing we can share with each other is the gift of attention

-Allie Middleton

Voice,” an expression I learned while working at NYAPRS, is to me, the cornerstone of community.  It means everyone gets to have their say.

Encouraging voice brings myriad gifts:

  • It honors each of us exactly as we are at a given moment on our journey…
  • …and offers the respect of faith in our ability to grow…
  • It gives us a chance to release what’s inside us… and notice how it affects others…
  • It offers opportunity for the solidarity of shared experiences or feelings…
  • It teaches us all to take things less personally…
  • It facilitates the giving and receiving of the unique bounty: wisdom, solutions, talents, skills, insight, life-experience, etc. of every magnificent individual…
  • ,,,which, in turn, heals and enhances our culture…
  • It creates investment in the community as a safe place to “be me”…
  • It challenges us to live in a vibrant ever-changing flow as each person grows and changes…
  • You add yours…

I’ve witnessed many voice-related “miracles.”  One involved a man speaking up in a community gathering for the first time, using a “talking stick” format…  He transferred the experience to speaking up with his mom, and shortly moved out of a residence he’d been ready to leave for seven years!

The Village, a thoughtfully constructed pilot MHA program in Long Beach, California (look them up on line for fabulous articles!) has been dubbed a “recovery Mecca” because of phenomenal recovery outcomes for people considered extremely “hard to serve” (70 odd % employed!) The Village knows how to honor voice!  Along with a host of other wonderful “doings,” once a week at their community meeting, held in a circle, everyone is offered a live microphone!

While visiting I was told a story of a particularly hostile individual denigrating the services at a meeting with potential funders.  It was assumed all hope for the money was lost, but instead it the funders were so impressed with The Village’s encouragement of “voice,” the grant came through!  (The fact that plenty of people say great things about the services – and that the services are largely created by community consensus probably helped too!)

All this is a sales pitch for the following pinnacle of “voice”-eliciting exercises, called “Talking Turkey.”   It’s a “talking stick”-style exercise and ideally, it would be an ongoing feature of any regularly scheduled community meetings.

Note:  For some cultures this may feel like a big challenge, while for others it will feel like no big deal.  If you do perceive it as a big challenge… wonder about that… talk about that… because if what I’m promoting has value, voice is absolutely crucial…  If an exercise like this is no big deal in your culture, I recommend you do something wonderful to celebrate yourselves!

…And PLEASE, do comment here on your feelings about “voice…”


Also… if there have been difficult power-differentials at your site, there will likely be some issues/hurt to clear…  It will help if you do some of the earlier exercises as a warm up (such as Pronouncements in the Pond) to get some energy “off the top.” An organization called “Tools for Change” has tremendous resources (available on line) for understanding power dynamics… Get team consensus on when the time to “Talk Turkey” is right…  the Genuine Community it facilitates is worth every effort to incorporate it.

Talking Turkey a.k.a. “The Peace Kit”

Note:  At NYAPRS we passed around a stuffed turkey… this can be done with any object… a “talking stick” as the Native Peoples do, or a dove, etc.


(to be read or explained to community)

1)    Ideally, sit in a community circle with nothing between you.  For a grand air clearing, say you’ll hang in until everyone feels enough has been said… for now.


Facilitators choose a number of times the Turkey will go around – at this sitting.

Be sensitive to those who are uncomfortable doing this…

(remind folks of the “right to pass”)

2)    Protection of the “Turkey”

The person holding the turkey…

a.)  …gets to talk, the whole time WITHOUT INTERRUPTION !!! (maybe set a time limit/maybe not) and then passes it to the next person in the circle – knowing it’ll come back around if needed (if agreed to).   Note: Always have the Turkey go all around the circle; No back and forth.

b.)  …gets to be WELL listened to when talking.  (Listeners, try to let go of your own viewpoint and defensiveness… and practice imagining what the talker is feeling.)

c.)  …is encouraged to get out their ENERGY IN MOTION (e-motion).

Feelings (not always tidy) will come up.  (Listeners, take a deep breath and listen well.  Trust that the talker will eventually run out of emotional “steam.”  Notice that peace begins to blossom from the talker’s clearer thinking.)

d.)  …is asked to do their best to say what they really feel – but in as kind a way as possible.  Always try to stick to how certain things make YOU feel… and what YOU need for things to go better.  Try not to focus on what another person needs to feel or do.  [And P.S.  “I feel like you’re a %$#@#*&%#%!!! is not a feeling!]

e.)  …is asked, on the final go-round, to share something positive about him or herself… and about each circle member (if time permits, or if not, something positive about the group).

…also say if this was helpful,  and whether you’d want to do it again.



  1. Don’t interrupt (unless you need to clarify or didn’t hear something)
  2. Try to be honest about feelings and needs
  3. Try to lead with positives (i.e. “I really appreciate that you cook my noodles! But I do wish you wouldn’t MAKE ME EAT EVERY BITE!!!”)
  4. When listening, avoid looking really mean and p***ed off (remember, we’re encouraging voice)
  5. Try not to blame or attack anyone (find a nicer way to say it!)
  6. If you discover you made a mistake, admit it (mistakes are the fertilizer for our blossoming souls!)
  7. Be tolerant with yourself and others around these agreements
  8. Humor’s good!
  9. Consider appreciating YOU and everyone else in your circle FOR DOING THIS!!!
  10. Modify this list or the directions with your brilliant ideas as needed

This tool is a composite of ideas borrowed from Native Culture, The Prison/Quaker-based Alternatives to Violence Project & Re-Evaluation Counseling.

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