Peace circles: transcending race and culture boundaries

By Keiko Ozeki

keiko circle

This picture was taken on July 25th, 2012, when I was formally introduced to Peacemaking Circle. Eighteen diverse people spent six intensive days in the racial healing circle. My experience in this circle was powerful and meaningful because this circle healed my pain, transformed my life, and transcended my personal boundaries related to culture and race. I began my journey for peacemaking with this experience.

Before I met this beautiful process called peacemaking circle, I grew up in Japan where I worked as a business consultant. I moved to Seattle with my son in 2005 hoping to learn diversity and inclusion work. However, learning about diversity and inclusion was very difficult. Living in Seattle was challenging for me because I felt sense of isolation for more than 7 years. While my friends compassionately supported me in Seattle, I felt disconnected from this land, culture, and society. I struggled to find myself in this place.

One day, one of my friends sent an invitation to racial healing that was done with the Peacemaking circle process. Though I had no idea about peacemaking circle, this invitation caught my attention because I had been exploring group processes where groups achieve both expected and unexpected outcomes, and individuals have peak experiences in group settings.

I originally came from Japan, whose culture is relatively collectivistic, easily suppressing individual needs for collective needs. In the United States, the culture is individualistic, focusing on individual needs rather than social harmony. I find significance in embracing both “I” and “We” to craft a healthy community and society.

My dream is to uncover a collective process where people who have different backgrounds such as race, gender, and culture live and work together. My experience in the racial healing circle offered insight into my dream.

My dream is to uncover a collective process where people who have different backgrounds such as race, gender, and culture live and work together. My experience in the racial healing circle offered insight into my dream. In circle, people pass a talking piece. When the talking piece comes to you, it becomes an opportunity for you to speak. When you do not have a talking piece, it is an opportunity for you to listen to others. In circle, people can practice speaking the truth with respect and listening to others without judgment.

In circle, people can practice speaking the truth with respect and listening to others without judgment.

When the talking piece came to me, I was able to share my stories from the beginning to the end without being worried about other people’s reactions. This was the moment when I felt my voice was heard, when I felt that I was a part of a community. To me, the circle process became a way of liberation from my internal and external oppression.

To me, the circle process became a way of liberation from my internal and external oppression.

As I got engaged in the circle process, I was intrigued by a person I’ll refer to as Cathy (I’m using a fictional name to protect confidentiality of the circle). She is a Japanese American woman who grew up in California. During the circle, she spoke as if she was a Japanese woman.  As she was introducing herself, I felt uncomfortable since she identified herself as a Japanese. I was thinking, “Why is she identifying herself as a Japanese even though she does not speak Japanese and had no experience living in Japan?”

Although I tried to listen to her without judgments or cynicism, I felt very awkward. After her introduction, Cathy shared stories about her experiences in the interment camp during World War II. She expressed that her Japanese identity had supported her during internment camp and has been supporting her life even today. As she authentically shared her story, I was so moved by it. I felt as if she was more Japanese than myself. I realized that I had taken my Japanese identity  for granted.

This was one of many transcendent moments I have had in circle. Her story made me realize that I created my own intellectual and emotional boundaries. After that realization, the boundaries I had created disappeared.

Today, I do not need to have a concept of “us versus them.” In our daily lives, we create boundaries by assuming that we cannot understand each other since we have different backgrounds. Peacemaking circle helps us build a healthy, just, and inclusive community where everyone can embrace each other’s differences. After the racial healing circle, Cathy became one of my close friends.

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Keiko OzekiKeiko Ozeki is the director of the Peacemaking and Healing Initiative for the Center for Ethical Leadership (CEL). With her whole-systems approach, she works for individual and collective healing, team building and leadership development. Keiko creates a space where people can go beyond their boundaries, achieve both expected and unexpected outcomes, and acquire their peak experiences collectively and individually.

The Center for Ethical Leadership (CEL) launched the Peacemaking and Healing Initiative in the Seattle region four years ago. In partnership with many communities and public institutions, this initiative has been committed to practicing peacemaking principles and using peacemaking circle process to cultivate healthy, just, and inclusive organizations and communities.