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What Is a Talking Circle?

Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott

A talking circle is way of bring people together to either talk about a specific subject or to share experiences of situations as diverse as addiction, abuse and being a mother. The talking circle owes its origins to Native American or First Nation culture. Such gatherings were often called to discuss a particular problem or issue. They have since become an important part of group or peer therapy and support.

As the name suggests, people in a talking circle gather in a circle, often seated, and take turns talking. The order in which people talk during a talking circle varies from group to group. There is often a group leader who will determine who talks next. Many groups also use a symbolic object, including sticks, balls or soft toys, to denote whose turn it is to speak.

The Wicca religion sometimes uses talking circles.
The Wicca religion sometimes uses talking circles.

When someone is speaking, he or she can stand or remain seated. The rules of a talking circle often mean that the person talking is not interrupted. It is considered highly rude to begin making comments to other people in the group, even those next to you. Proper conduct in such circles is for everyone to listen to the speaker, as they would expect people to listen to them in return. In this sense, the talking circle falls in line with the Native American culture of cooperation over competition.

The first use of talking circles was to provide a forum for groups of Native Americans. It was particularly well-used in the Lakota and Ojibwa regions around the Great Lakes of Canada and the United States. The purpose was to remove hierarchy and to provide a place where people could talk freely and without having to worry about social structure.

They are used for many other purposes in modern America and countries around the world. One of the most notable examples is to discuss problems such as addictions to drugs and alcohol. Groups of alcoholics, for example, gather in circles and take it in turns to discuss their addiction, their coping methods, lows and their day-to-day progress in trying to give up alcohol. In such talking circles, the circle is often complemented by other social support activities such as counseling, talks and events.

Such circles do not have to be limited to a single problem or, in fact, any problem. They can be used to discuss certain things people have in common whether it is motherhood or being a teenager or being from a particular neighborhood or being of a certain religion, such as Wicca. They can be regular meetups or one-off events. For example, the traditional town hall meeting could be changed into a talking circle to discuss a particular piece of legislation or event within the locality.

Talking circles can also be used in the classroom. They are good for teaching students to not only talk, but to listen and to discuss points. They make for a good activity for a number of subjects ranging from history classes to learning a language.

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    • The Wicca religion sometimes uses talking circles.
      By: Scott Griessel
      The Wicca religion sometimes uses talking circles.