EMU invites lawmakers to learn more about benefits of 'talking pieces'

Published: Jan. 25, 2018 at 1:35 PM EST
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After Congressional leaders used a "talking stick" during a meeting to discuss a deal to end the government shutdown, Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding has invited several of them to come to the Harrisonburg campus for a course.

During bi-partisan talks over the government shutdown, a group of senators, including Virginia's Mark Warner, used a "talking stick" from Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. When one person has the stick, everyone else is silent.

According to Daryl Byler, the executive director of EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, it is what is known as a "circle process" dating back to indigenous peoples in the United States and Africa.

Byler has now sent a letter to Senator Collins (R-Maine), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and to House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). and several other lawmakers, inviting them to EMU's summer peacebuilding institute to learn more.

"It makes a huge difference, because it emphasizes the fact that we need to do more listening and maybe less talking and the beauty of a talking circle is that each voice is heard," said Byler.

Blyer says circle processes are effective in decision making, but lawmakers did have a mishap when a glass elephant in Sen. Collin's office was broken.

"It was tossed and, in this case, went slightly amiss," said Collins.

Byler says he does think he will hear from a few of the congressional lawmakers in response to their