There is a story that has been circulating the internet for years concerning the Bemba or Babemba tribe somewhere in Africa. (Whether it is true or simply a legend, I don’t know but it tells a story worth repeating.) Purportedly, when a person acts “irresponsibly or unjustly”, he or she is placed in the center of the village, alone and unrestrained. All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the “accused” individual. One at a time, each person shares with the entire village, all the good things the accused has done in his or her lifetime. “Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted.” All of his or her positive character traits, good deeds, strengths and kindnesses are carefully shared in detail with all who are gathered in the circle. No one is allowed to “fabricate, exaggerate or be facetious about” the accused person’s accomplishments, behaviors or attitudes. These ceremonies last for hours and in some cases days, because the purpose is to share every positive thing about the person that can be recalled. At the end of the ceremony the entire village celebrates as the accused is both symbolically and literally reunited and restored to their place in the community.
As I said, I don’t know how much of this story is true, but I have seen and experienced the powerful effects this can have on a small group. When I was in junior high school we did an exercise where a person was placed in the center of the group and each member of our youth group was required to say something positive about that person. It took several hours because we required each person to share and everyone took turns being in the center of the circle.
That exercise TRANSFORMED that group of youth in ways I have never forgotten. Most notably, it stopped most of the conflict and bullying within the group. There is something about having to say something nice about your enemy that causes us to realize we are all more alike than we may want to admit. When we are forced to see that there is a divine spark in every person we meet, it keeps us from reducing each other to something we can easily dismiss and put down. When we are willing to see there is something of value in others it also helps us to see the value in ourselves.
My mother used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I wonder what would happen if we forced ourselves to say something good about everyone we knew? Hmm…I think I’ll give it a try.
See You Sunday!