Dutchess County Legislature Circle sign now

Since so much attention is being paid to our County Legislature's seating arrangement these days, it would be nice if we actually got it fully right-- with a circular seating arrangement for legislators that encourages interaction, feelings of equality, inclusion, and respect for all-- necessary for democracy to truly flourish.

The fact is that a number of times over the past few years our own County Legislature's Budget, Finance, and Personnel and Environmental Committees have already held special meetings with more intimate rectangle/oval seating arrangements in the larger caucus room on the sixth floor of our County Office Building; typically Democratic and Republican caucuses have also been held in the same seating arrangement as well.

This educator has also noticed over the past twenty years of working with children (and adults) in many different settings that circular seating arrangements are quite effective in making sure everyone's needs are met calmly, peacefully, fairly, fully-- and perhaps most importantly, effortlessly-- in the circle.

Five more reasons for our County Legislature to have a circular seating arrangement:

1. "The philosophy of the Henrys Fork Watershed Council holds that 'None of us is as smart as all of us.' Browns training with Scott Pecks Foundation for Community Encouragement focused on creating a "safe zone" where people could tell what they thought without being challenged or scorned. The circular seating arrangement encourages a feeling of equality, she says, and the time of silence gives members a chance to quiet their minds and collect their thoughts."
[from "Idaho Learns to Share Two Rivers" by Patti Sherlock (High Country News 5/13/96):

2. "Circular group seating provides easy verbal and non-verbal interaction. It also gives high informality. New members, or outsiders, are encouraged to become a part of the interaction occurring before them. The more disinterested and apathetic members generally tend to sit at the back, and therefore can remain aloof and unobtrusive. In a circular seating arrangement they are forced to become part of the action. Also, circular seating allows the leader freedom of movement."
[from Sonoma State University Office of Campus Life Handbook:

3. "Circular seating creates a more intimate feel in community presentations. Circles have long been customary to telling stories, primarily because it lifts the listener into more a participatory role. When we know that we can see others and they can see us, in the midst of the storys telling, we become part of the story...I find that seating in a circle dramatically increases the amount of interaction possible between presenter and worshipper. The best kind of presentation is one where there is a detectable dialogue going on under the presentation. When a presenter can sense when an audience needs more energy or when they are with the action then he/she can respond appropriately by changing their movements, expressions, inflection, tone volume, etc."
[from Unitarian Universalist Intergenerational Services:

4. "A circular seating structure is extremely important for building a classroom community. Many teachers start each morning off with students gathered in a circle, to review the plan for the day, to allow students to share personal news they might have on their mind, and /or to discuss issues or business needing to be addressed. In teaching conflict resolution in classrooms, the Childrens Creative Response to Conflict program that I was trained in recommends having a circular seating arrangement as home base for the students as they process the activities theyve done together. I like this practice, because it reinforces the message we want to convey about a community of inclusion and respect."
[from "Come Join the Circle: LessonSongs for Peacemaking" by Paulette Meier:

5. "The circular seating arrangement further ensures that all group members can see and hear the trainer clearly, and also encourages interaction."
[from PreventionTraining.samhsa.gov/st02/EXH1.htm]

Not the most important issue under the sun, for sure-- but one that shouldn't be ignored, given all the attention these days to our County Legislature's seating arrangement.

Help make a circle happen on the sixth floor of our County Office Building-- send a letter to [email protected]

Joel Tyner
County Legislator
324 Browns Pond Road
Staatsburg, NY 12580
(845) 876-2488
[email protected]

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