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Charlottesville, VA Grows the Circles of Trust and Care

Posted by Erin Bechtol

by Robert McAdams  // Part of the Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions 

On Friday, 9/21, at 7:00 PM in Charlottesville we held a program titled “Growing the Circles of Trust and Care”. Our attendance was low but the participation level was very high. After brief opening remarks, we held small group discussions in two sessions which overall lasted two hours. I have attached the program we used and the remarks that preceded each discussion session. We wanted to set a context for discussion that avoided the talking points which normally divide people into warring camps. We believe that this program has merit and we are offering the program for other organizations or congregations to adapt to their own context.

See the opening remarks from the Growing Circles of Trust and Care below.


Part I – Welcome and Opening Remarks

Welcome.  My name is Bob McAdams and I am president of the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice.  On this the International Day of Peace, we have come together to think about the meaning of “nonviolence”, not in abstract terms, but in our lives.  This event does not stand alone.  We are part of the national Campaign Nonviolence and part of the process of moving our society toward comprehensive nonviolence as a way of living.  The title of our program is “Growing the Circles of Trust and Care”. We call this an interactive program because your participation will give meaning to our words.

“Growing the Circles of Trust and Care” is the child of a May 9th presentation in the old Stone Chapel at the Church of the Incarnation.  There Rev. John Dear introduced many of us to Campaign Nonviolence, a long-term movement to build a culture of peace and nonviolence in our society.  We were inspired by his story of decades of nonviolent activism including more than eighty arrests. We were also inspired by his ideas for connecting the dots of many forms of violence.  He explained that by facing all the forms of violence together, we will be better able to move toward a nonviolent society. We left his talk with a deep sense of the need to end the violence of racism, economic injustice, environmental degradation, gun violence, endless war, and more.  We also left with the questions: How do we get from where we are to where we want to be and where are we really both as a society and as individuals?  For the beliefs, attitudes, and values of a society are the aggregate of the beliefs, attitudes, and values held by the individuals in the society.  A society changes only as individuals change.

The antipathies that drive the divisions in our society flow deep below the surface.  Looking for ways to ease those antipathies will also take us below the surface.  When I go below the surface, I see an image from my experience as a child, as a parent, as a grandparent.  This is the image of a child reaching up and taking hold of a grownup’s hand.  Children instinctively know that they cannot survive without the help of others. So, a smaller hand reaches up to be held by a larger hand.  The child trusts that the grownup will not bring harm, but will provide safety. Around every child, every adult, around each of us is a circle of trust.  We include in that circle people with whom we are safe.  Sadly, some children never have a grown-up they can trust.

There is a second circle.  Go back to the image of the child holding a grownup’s hand.  Often that child holds under the other arm a doll or stuffed animal.  The trusted grown-up cares for the child. The child imitates the grownup by caring for the doll or animal.  Children also care for younger siblings. A child will even comfort and care for a grownup who is in distress.  This second circle is the circle of care.  It includes those for whom we are concerned, to whom we give care.   

The circle of trust and the circle of care are not the same, although they overlap.  These circles change, sometimes in parallel, often not.  Over time our circles of trust grow to include playmates, cousins, neighbors, friends at school, co-workers.  Our circles of care grow, but not as far. The circles of trust and care also shrink.  When trust is betrayed or care rejected, we pull the circle closer to our center.  Throughout our lives our circles of trust and care grow, shrink, and grow again. We expand the circles to bring people in and draw the circles tighter to close people out.  

As we mature our circles become more complex.  We trust and care by degrees.  We feel safe with fellow employees, but we entrust our serious concerns only to close friends.  We feel concern for people suffering from natural or man-made disasters, but we give real care to those closest to us.  We live within these circles all the time. Right now, here, circles of trust and care extend over this gathering.  We feel them as we meet here.

Part II – Introduction to Small Group Discussions

These images bring us to the first part of our interactive program.  We will divide into small Trust Circles.  In those circles we will each respond to two general questions:

  • How are your circles of trust and care doing?
  • What has made your circles grow and shrink and how did you feel when they were growing and when they were shrinking?

To respect each other’s privacy, what we share in these Trust Circles will remain in those circles.  Your facilitator has guidelines for the discussion. On the back of your program is a number from one to ten.  This is your group number. The facilitator for each group is holding up a sign with a number. Follow that number to the location for your group.  Let us begin.

Part III – Re-gather and Review

For most people the concept of circles of trust and care is new.  As you think about circles of trust and care radiating out from you, keep in mind what for you causes them to grow and to shrink and how you feel when they do.  Questions that you have now will likely be addressed in the second group discussions, which we will begin after a five minute break.

Part IV – Applying What We have Learned – the Circles of Trust and Care in Social Settings

In our first group discussions we focused on our own circles of trust and care.  Each of us thought of what makes our circles grow or shrink.  We also thought of how we feel when our circles grow and shrink.  The importance of feelings extends beyond the present because people tend to repeat behavior that brings good feelings and avoid behavior that brings bad feelings.  

Our circles go with us whenever we step through our doorway and out into the wide world.  In society those circles of trust and care will pick up some dents and scratches as we interact with others.  But, as we are reacting to others, they are reacting to us. When we project distrust and cold indifference to others, their circles of trust and care shrink, as they pull away.  For most people, most of the time, everything is reciprocal. If we project toward people an openness to trust and a real concern for their well-being, will they respond in kind? Is it possible for us to consciously grow our circles of trust and care?  Can we by words and actions affect the antipathies that divide our society?

The theme for the larger group discussions is: How can we apply our understanding of the circles of trust and care to move our society toward nonviolence?  In these discussions feel free to address any of several forms of violence.  The facilitators will allow time at the end of the discussion for you to write ideas for activist groups involved with specific issues to implement.  To make the larger groups we are simply combining the smaller groups in pairs. Groups one and six will join, two and seven, etc.

Part V – Re-gather and Review

This evening we have looked for a pathway to a nonviolent society through the eyes of children.  We have looked inside ourselves at the ways we include or exclude people from our circles of trust and care.  We have then considered how we can consciously grow our circles to displace fear with trust and indifference or hostility with concern.  Hope comes with those efforts because trust and care make people feel better than fear and hostility. We know that we can never control the choices others make.  We can only control the choices we make.  We also know that the wider we extend our circles of trust and care, the more vulnerable we become.  A simple perspective can help us recognize that same vulnerability in others:

People come in all different shapes and sizes, ages and colors, two genders more or less.  Each person has a unique point of view and unique story in all the universe. Each person has their own circles of trust and care that have grown and shrunk throughout their lives.   Recognizing our common need for respect and concern will help us grow our circles of trust and care.  Do any of you have questions?

Part VI – Planning the Next Steps in the Movement Toward a Nonviolent Society

“Growing” is an action that includes cultivating and nurturing.  At the beginning of this program, I said that this event does not stand alone.  When I checked at mid-week, Campaign Nonviolence had actions for peace and nonviolence this week in 24 countries, all 50 states, with the total number of events more than 2,650, ours included.  But, our event here must not stand alone in time. The Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice welcomes your suggestions for programs to continue what we have started. If you are a member of an organization or congregation and you think that your organization would like to present a program similar to this, we will gladly help you.  There is more.  As we leave here, we all are the message.  How we see other people and act toward other people will affect how they see us and act toward us.  This is a pathway toward nonviolence as a way of living for our community, our society.

As to announcements, CCPJ will have a booth at the Vegan Roots Festival next Friday the Albemarle-Charlottesville chapter of the NAACP will hold their Annual Freedom Banquet and on Saturday, 9/29, at Booker T. Washington Park from 12:00 noon to 6:00.  The next general meeting for the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice will Sunday, 9/30, 4:00 PM, in the Friends Meeting House, at the end of Forrest St. near Murray High School. Does anyone else have an announcement? Thank you all for participating in this program as we work to grow our circles of trust and care.  

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