One day a group of villagers was working in the fields by a river. Suddenly someone noticed a baby floating downstream. A woman rushed out and rescued the baby, brought it to shore and cared for it. During the next several days, more babies were found floating downstream, and the villagers rescued them as well.

Before long there was a steady stream of babies floating downstream. Soon the whole village was involved in the many tasks of rescue work – pulling these poor children out of the stream, ensuring they were properly fed, clothed and housed and integrating them into the life of the village.

While not all of the babies, now very numerous, could be saved, the villagers felt they were doing well to save as many as they did. Before long, however, the village became exhausted with all of this rescue work.

Some villagers suggested they go upstream to discover how all these babies were getting into the river in the first place.

Had a mysterious illness stricken these poor children? Had the shoreline been made unsafe by an earthquake? Was some hateful person throwing them in deliberately? Was an even more exhausted village up-stream abandoning them out of hopelessness?

A huge controversy erupted in the village. One group argued that every possible hand was needed to save the babies since they were barely keeping up with the current flow.

The other group argued if they found out how those babies were getting into the water further upstream, they could repair the situation up there that would save all the babies and eliminate the need for those costly rescue operations downstream.

“Don’t you see,” cried some, “if we find out how they’re getting in the river, we can stop the problem and no babies will drown? By going upstream we can eliminate the root cause of the problem.”

“But it’s too risky,” said the village elders. “It might fail. It’s not for us to change the system, and besides, how would we occupy ourselves if we no longer had this to do?”

Would it be too risky to keep doing what we are already currently doing to solve the issues of babies floating down the river? Maybe we need to look at what fails; does that not create movement towards good solutions?

Why not change the system that isn’t working? Wouldn’t we occupy ourselves in doing something in a good way to help and heal everyone? These would be the questions I would ask the village elders in this story. Does that make me defiant to the status quo…maybe? I guess that would depend on a person’s perspective and definition of the words within those questions.

In my humble opinion, that is all that separates us in all areas of “debate” is perspective and definitions of words, labels and even responsibilities as a community. Luckily, I have the privilege to be in a position to share the Circle process to have these difficult conversations, ask hard question and find solutions in a good way. 

There’s no way I can explain the Circle process in words. It is something that just needs to be experienced like any beautiful accomplishment, to be fully present in the creation.

This experience has been the most fulfilling and provides me hope for a better tomorrow, more than anything else I have ever participated in before and since starting Circle…let me explain.

I can get pretty frustrated with what I see going on around me, whether that is the atrocities happening around the world to the increase of neglect within our communities locally to the dissolving of virtues within individual families.

It would be easy for me to point the finger at someone, other groups/agencies or the system I think is to blame for all these issues we face, but I have come to find out that never solves anything…ever. The simple truth of it is, it starts from within and ripples out, so we need to be mindful of the intentions we put forth.

Within this last year or so I made it my intention to trust my intuition more, to say yes to good opportunities and/or experiences, to put myself in beautiful settings for inspiration thinking that would be the answer to some of my frustrations. So, I went to experience the vastness of the Grand Canyon with my son to the beauty of the Red Rocks in Sedona, Ariz. which were all fantastic. Yet the frustration did not disappear.

I continued saying yes to opportunities that presented themselves which led me to the Sacred Valley of Peru in the majestic mountains for ceremonies with some amazing people and then a few months later to the enchanting blue of Lake Titicaca in Peru.

Each time I returned from these journeys as awesome as they were, I still felt/feel a sense of frustration with the hurt, pain and disenfranchisement that is happening among us that we all consciously or unconsciously feel.

However, I have learned two major things through this. One, I need to do the things I know I need to do to take better care of myself – mind, body and spirit. I could talk on my thoughts of how these three elements are of one being, but that can be for another column. Yes, I have complete control.

Actually the only thing I have complete control of, the health of my thoughts, words, emotions and then with what I give out to others. In doing this I need to lead by example, not tell others how they should be. The second lesson has been the most beautiful realization and that is coming back home to sit in Circle, the heartbeat of this community.

That is why Circle cannot be explained in words. The process to an extent can be, but one has to experience the courage it takes to step into the room where we have Circle whether that is a Circle at the courthouse for those who are there for an incident that occurred, to Circle at the school in which students are struggling, or parents coming to Circle to become stronger and do better as a family.

It takes tremendous courage to face difficulties, to be vulnerable to accountability not only to what one sees within oneself but also in the reflections of other community members.

Out of all the wonderful things that I have seen in my life, it still amazes me how much appreciation I have for each person who comes to Circle, from those coming through the different systems be it court, social services, the school to those who “volunteer” their time and energy to help heal the community together. We are all in this together whether one believes we are or not. Remember that we are the creators of the world around us.

We all share responsibility for what happens to the least of us, and only when we come together in something like the Circle process can we collectively be present enough to move forward together in a good way so that the effects of the future mirror our hopes of the now. Not much exists beyond the present, the past is gone and the future is to be determined.

I am so truly grateful for every person who has stepped into Circle, those that are currently coming to Circle in a sacred way bringing their gifts to share with others.

I sincerely invite those that will be coming to Circle when they manifest the courage to join us.

When you are ready you can contact Susan Minkel at (507) 637-1142 or me at (507) 637-1139 about how you can get involved.

The Circle process isn’t a magical fix-it-all program for the many overwhelming issues we face within our community or world. Yet it is a tool to be used by us to discover that we are the ones who have the magical gifts to solve anything we want when we come together. So it really just comes down to this, we can be a part of the solution or we are not.

Just because one chooses not to be a part of the solution, doesn’t mean that they are not responsible for the causes.

I am going to close with this quote that is above the doorway where we have Circle in the courthouse from Rudolf Steiner. It reminds me every day of what it means to be a community, something that I strive for and find peace in knowing that we are doing this in Circle together.

“A healthy social life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living.”

–Eric Johnson is the coordinator of the Restorative Justice Program in Redwood County