Circles and Consensus


At Festival, we meet as a group in the morning and again in the evening for CIRCLE. The morning circle is called before lunch, the evening circle just prior to the evening meal. The camp bell is rung 10 to 15 minutes before circle starts, and again just before it begins.

Circle is the heart and voice of Festival. In circle we introduce ourselves to each other, discuss issues affecting our lives, announce the day’s schedule, resolve problems, and make decisions concerning Festival guidelines, policy, etc. Circle is the governing body of Festival and is made up of all the men who want to participate.

Circle is guided by a facilitator who usually, though not always, has some experience with group process and consensus. Anyone may volunteer to facilitate circle. Some men choose to facilitate together, which lets those with less experience learn alongside more experienced men.

We use CONSENSUS PROCESS in circle. The goal in consensus is to express our individual needs, wants, feelings, and desires, and to meld these into a collective response.

We live in a world where most often the meanest, loudest, strongest, wittiest, richest, or most connected get to have their way. In contrast, consensus strives to give each member of a group equal respect, power, and consideration.
Our culture teaches us some very dysfunctional lessons about emotions. We men in particular learn to fear, judge, and suppress out feelings, as well as discount or belittle the feelings of others. In consensus process, feelings are seen as powerful and complex, a natural and important part of our lives. Dealing with emotions openly and directly is seen as essential to constructive relationships and interactions.

Some techniques which embody these values include:

Being aware of your feelings and accepting responsibility for them
Speaking only for yourself
Being honest and direct when communicating
Listening carefully to others
Taking care of yourself emotionally as well as physically.
To function successfully, consensus depends on the cooperation and participation of every person within the group. You are encouraged to use these techniques not only in circle, but also as part of all your festival interactions.
Consensus process is especially useful for making a collective decision and generally follows this form:

A need or desire is stated by someone in the group.
It is important for people to express – and for people to hear – the needs, desires, concerns, and feelings raised by the issue at hand – and to continue doing so throughout the process.
Next come suggestions, concerns, brainstorming, and discussion, which eventually combine to become a proposal.
Further discussion fine-tunes the proposal until group agreement has been reached.
Consensus process presents a model of group interaction that is in direct contrast to communication techniques we have practiced all our lives. Because of this, Festival circles can feel confusing and cumbersome. Please bear in mind, consensus process is a social experiment that works to change the unequal power dynamics familiar to so many of us. Therefore, practicing consensus requires concentration and patience from all of us.

While it may be more time-consuming than more familiar models, in the long run consensus allows for more carefully made decisions than majority rule. By consciously combining different opinions and viewpoints, consensus often leads to more creative and satisfying solutions. By including each individual’s concerns, consensus promotes harmony within the group, and allows for movement towards the ideal of equality in decision-making.

Consensus process is most easily learned through direct experience. A brief description such as this cannot convey everything you may want to know. Please feel free to ask about specific steps and finer details of the process during as well as outside of circle.