Living Justice Press

The Power of Sharing Stories

Don't ask, "What's the problem?" Ask, "what's the story?" That way, you'll find out what the problem really is.


            - Richard Neustadt & Ernest May          

              Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers


In Circles, participants speak from their own experiences. They tell their stories. This simple rule of practice has many benefits.


  • It protects Circle dialogue from lectures and trying to tell others—or being told—what to do.
  • It curbs the urge to judge or advise others from our own experiences and instead invites participants to suspend judgments and advice, while we listen to the experiences that shaped other’s actions.
  • It shifts the focus from “You should …” to “I remember when I …”
  • It encourages an atmosphere of humility and compassion, as participants recall similar struggles or times when they felt similar ways.
  • It builds mutual understanding, as we learn the personal journeys that have brought us to where we are.
  • It creates opportunities for participants to learn from each other’s experiences.
  • It gives voice to experiences that social filters routinely screen out.
  • It builds bridges across social, economic, political, ethnic, racial, and gender divides.
  • It brings us back to our humanity. Sharing stories humanizes us for each other.


Hearing each other’s stories is an essential element of the restorative justice process. It creates spaces for healing on both sides of harms.


Beyond healing harms and transforming conflicts, though, sharing stories builds bonds of understanding and love in many areas of life. David Isay, for example, founded StoryCorps in 2003 to record the stories of everyday people across the United States. He has released a sample collection of these stories in his book and CD entitled Listening Is an Act of Love. Web address: StoryCorps invites people into StoryBooths to record their stories. Already, the waiting list is long.


Circles provide a space where we can share our stories and listen with our hearts any time and virtually anywhere. Circles offer a way for us to come together in a good way to talk about what matters to us and to know that we will both listen and be heard.


Through Circles, we engage the power of our stories.

Circle Use in the Real World

Here are some examples of what people are doing with Circles.

  • In a transitional housing program for homeless women and children, the director used the Circle process over a period of months to involve her entire staff in designing a new program.
  • The Science Museum of Minnesota used Circles as a dialogue process for groups of people who came to view an exhibit called “RACE.”
  • A special high school for students who are recovering from chemical dependency convenes a Circle of the entire school whenever a student relapses. Accountability, support, and defusing anxieties that occur in a recovery community whenever one of their members relapses: the Circle addresses all of these concerns.
  • An Indigenous community in Costa Rica used the Circle process to resolve a twelve-year land dispute.
  • A planner used a Circle in a small “dying” village to help the community create a vision for a positive future.
  • The Minnesota Department of Corrections offers the Circle process as one of the options that staff can use to resolve staff disputes and to address workplace dysfunction.
  • A Milwaukee neighborhood held Circles with youth and senior citizens to reduce the fears that senior citizens had around young people.
  • In a large urban area, a youth development organization uses Circles to help youth get out of gangs as well as to create dialogue among rival gang members.
  • An elementary school uses Circles to resolve disputes on the playground.
  • A group of family and friends used a Circle to say good-bye to a loved one who was dying.
  • A church board sat in Circle with church members who were upset about a decision that the board had made.
  • A suburban community uses Circles to decide on a sentence for certain types of offenders.
  • The director of a community corrections department held a Circle with his entire staff to decide how to cut the budget.
  • A wilderness juvenile corrections facility used Circles with staff to heal the wounds of a bitter strike of state workers.
  • A small nonprofit used a Circle to develop a vision and a mission for the organization.
  • The legal department of Chicago Public Schools and a coalition of community activists who wanted to reform the discipline procedures used a Circle to find common ground. Then they continued to use Circles to collaborate on changing the “Uniform Code of Discipline.”
  • Staff in a planning office periodically use Circles at staff meetings to facilitate staff involvement and more equal participation.
  • At St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, one of the professors who teaches both in the law school and in the criminal justice graduate program uses the Circle process to teach all of his classes.
  • A neighborhood group held a healing Circle to support the mother and siblings of a sixteen-year-old boy who was shot and killed.
  • The staff of a detention facility unit conducts weekly check-in Circles to strengthen their relationships and to improve the flow of their communications.
  • A few professors and some citizens who met at a law school used the Circle process to talk about starting a truth-telling process to address the state’s history of genocide and forced colonization of the land’s Indigenous Peoples.