Theresa Latini is taking a short break from her rotation on The Twelve. While she’s away, we welcome Kate Kooyman. Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Witness in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thank you, Kate.
I really, really hate Robert’s Rules of Order.
I’ve heard rumors that Robert’s Rules has its big fans. I’ve heard people say that Robert’s Rules is the best way to ensure orderly proceedings, that meetings allow for voices to be heard without devolving into chaos, etc. I’m sure there are other reasons to love it. I just hate it.
I think at every meeting there is one brain that is loving Robert’s Rules. And the rest of our brains are just going along with it, because we assume we’re the only dummy in the room who has no idea what’s going on. Sometimes I’m voting, and I truly don’t know whether a “Yea” means that we’re increasing someone’s salary or firing them or allowing someone to insert a comma between two words in the meeting notes. I vote “Yea” anyway, because I don’t want people to think I’m the only dummy in the room. I just do what everyone else is doing, and pray that no one’s going to get hurt.
So Robert’s Rules brings out the worst in me—it makes me less passionate about important issues, it makes me less invested in my voice being heard, it makes me care way less about other people’s perspectives. It makes me feel bored, and dumb, and it makes me want to go home.
At our meeting last week, the classis of which I’m a member announced a new way of discussing important issues: restorative circles. We broke into small groups, and followed scripted questions. One person talked, everyone else listened. Then they passed the talking piece to the next person, and that person talked.
I actually talked. It was the first time I’ve talked at classis. Maybe ever. (For the sake of context: I talk in non-Roberts situations. A lot.)
The goal of these restorative circles is to learn some new habits—habits that will help us more deeply and more faithfully engage our denomination’s upcoming topic of same sex relationships. The hope is that restorative circles will better ensure that everyone in the room participates in that important conversation—both by listening well, and by speaking up. The goal is to more clearly see one another as human beings, and to build our relationships with one another even in the midst of differences. The goal is not to all agree; the goal is to understand.
Restorative circles are being used in classrooms and playgrounds in my urban public school district—they’ve been shown to reduce expulsions, and increase empathy. Restorative circles are being used in courts as a way to increase accountability for crimes and decrease the population of jails. Restorative circles are being used in homes to build relationships and release shame. Restorative circles are being used in congregations to reconcile divisions and be the diverse and unified body of Christ.
I really hate Robert’s Rules. But I really love restorative circles.
(Training is available for those interested in learning more about how restorative practices can transform the way a church, community, family, or school handles conflict. I’d be happy to try to connect you with a training–firstname.lastname@example.org )