Talking pieces gifted to Professor Howard Zehr from peacebuilding practitioners around the world, held by faculty and staff of Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. This week, members of the U.S. Congress used a talking piece (similar to the Masai talking stick pictured above) as they discussed issues related to the recent government shutdown. CJP has invited them to continue learning more about about the talking piece by attending a circle processes class at Summer Peacebuilding Institute 2018. (Photo by Jon Styer)

EMU’s peacebuilding institute invites leaders of U.S. Congress to learn more about talking sticks and circle processes

Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding has invited leaders of Congress to learn more about using talking sticks in circle processes at its Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI).

The invitation was issued after a group of senators used a talking stick to help negotiate an end to the recent government shutdown. It was extended via an email from Daryl Byler, the center’s executive director, on Tuesday – which will be followed by a mailed letter – to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and to House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was also invited, as was Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who initially introduced the talking piece to her fellow senators.

“The senators’ use of the talking stick demonstrates that it can be an effective practice,” said SPI director Bill Goldberg. “Ultimately, it would benefit our nation to have all members of Congress engage in circle processes.”

The circle processes course, taught at SPI by internationally renowned circles practitioner Kay Pranis, is offered May 24-June 1, 2018. Twenty other courses are also taught, including several related to collaborative communication practices involving facilitation, truth-telling and restorative justice.

Since 1994, SPI has hosted more than 3,200 people from 120 countries.

During the government shutdown, Collins – reportedly tired of members of the Common Sense Coalition talking over each other – initiated the use of a Masai talking stick in negotiations. The discussion reportedly was not without mishap, when the passing of the stick resulted in slight damage to a glass elephant in Collins’ office. After the incident, the group switched to using a small rubber ball.

“How to have healthy discussions – to listen respectfully and wait your turn to speak – is exactly part of what we teach in our circle processes classes,” said Bill Goldberg. “But we don’t have any glass elephants.”

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