Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels that you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you are capable of loving him he would no longer be your enemy.

Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation

A Brief History of the Compassionate Listening Project

– by Leah Green

The Compassionate Listening Project began in 1990 as Mid-East Citizen Diplocmacy, under the umbrella of the Earthstewards Network on Bainbridge Island. Danaan Parry, co-founder of Earthstewards, was an early pioneer in the citizen diplomacy movement, taking U.S. citizens to the former Soviet Union and creating many exchanges and projects. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Danaan turned his attention to the Middle East to focus his citizen diplomany efforts. He planned the first Earthstewards’ citizen delegation to Israel and Palestine for November, 1990 and asked me to assist with the trip itinerary. Danaan saw my passion for this work and after the trip asked me to continue leading delegations to Israel and Palestine for Earthstewards, which I did for the next 7 years.

As an American-Jewish woman who had lived in Israel and worked in the West Bank, my original vision was to strengthen U.S. support for Middle East peace by connecting Americans to Israeli and Palestinian reconciliation leaders and providing them with a firsthand experience of the complexities on the ground.

It became clear over time that my greatest interest was in Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and healing. In 1996, after leading nine delegations, I sought out Gene Knudsen Hoffman (1919 – 2010), who became my trusted mentor. I adopted Gene’s framework for compassionate listening as an overarching framework for the delegations and Gene and I traveled together to launch the Compassionate Listening Project in Israel and Palestine.

Gene & Leah, 1998

Gene & Leah, 1998, photo by Carol Hwoschinsky

Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, was one of Gene’s teachers, and the essence of Compassionate Listening comes from his teachings: a call for peacemakers to initiate humanizing contact and cultivate compassion for those on all sides of a conflict.

In 1997, after experiencing the powerful nature of this work, and with the encouragement of Gene and Israeli and Palestinian NGO’s, The Compassionate Listening Project (TCLP) was established as a non-profit organization.

Compassionate Listening Delegations

TCLP has now guided nearly 600 American citizens to Israel and Palestine to listen to the grievances, hopes, and dreams of people on all sides of the conflict, including religious, political and grassroots leaders, settlers, refugees, peace activists, citizens, soldiers, and extremists. Educator and trainer Carol Hwoschinsky of Ashland, Oregon participated in our first delegation with Gene in 1996, and joined me afterward with her dear friend and colleague Larissa Keet to develop the first training curriculum for delegation participants. Carol travelled on many delegations as our group facilitator, until 2002.

With the support of Israeli and Palestinian colleagues, TCLP has built trusting relationships across political, religious and social divides throughout Israel and Palestine. We also bring Israelis and Palestinians together for Compassionate

Compassionate Listening Training for Israelis and Palestinians, West Bank, 2007

Compassionate Listening Training for Israelis and Palestinians, West Bank, 2007

Listening trainings and events. TCLP offers a powerful conflict resolution model and concrete skill building for our participants. We have visited Jordan on three delegations, and in 2002 we expanded our regional involvement with a successful delegation to Syria and Lebanon.

TCLP is respected as one of the oldest established NGOs working in Israel and Palestine in the field of Track II (Citizen) Diplomacy. Our delegations have resulted in an extensive network of informed leaders across N. America who stand for both peoples as a result of their transformative experiences in the field. Our impressive alumni play a positive role in peace-making efforts: educating in their home communities and inviting others to support reconciliation leaders in Israel and Palestine. Some of our alumni have created successful Mideast peace programs that promote cross-cultural and interfaith understanding, as well as human rights and humanitarian work. Their leadership and efforts are especially important as the conflict in the Middle East continues to create harsh divisions among religious and political groups, on college campuses and within the peace movement.

Compassionate Listening Training

This was the most transformative, essential workshop I have experienced.

Meg, Vancouver, British Columbia

Compassionate Listening is vital in every situation I find myself in. At work, home, out on the street and with friends, family and broken relationships…

Steve, Boulder, Colorado

As the delegations continued in the Middle East and the project began receiving local and national publicity, the demand for Compassionate Listening training in the U.S. increased. In response, Carol Hwoschinsky and I designed and adapted training curricula for teaching Compassionate Listening in the U.S. in academic, public and private settings. We call the training Compassionate Listening – Healing Our World from the Inside Out. These trainings have always focused on Compassionate Listening as a practice for use in everyday life – at the personal, professional and community level.

Advanced Training and Certification

Beginning in 1999, a core group began to meet together with Carol and me to practice in the U.S. Sometimes Gene Knudsen Hoffman joined us for these weekends – once she hosted us all at her community peace center, Sola House, in Santa Barbara. Carol and I made a decision early on that since this was an evolving field and we were learning so much together, that it would be important to stay together as a community of practitioners. Carol became our Training Director and twenty of us spent four long weekends together in 2003-04 in our first Advanced Training series. Many of the participants were already trainers and facilitators, and together we accelerated the practice and body of work that today we call “Compassionate Listening.” It was truly a group effort and I have enormous gratitude for our early practitioners who began incorporating Compassionate Listening into their own work, as well as facilitating introductions, practice groups, and trainings. Many from this group became our first certified Compassionate Listening facilitators and are still teaching to this day. In addition to training thousands of people in the United States, we’ve also held trainings in Israel, Palestine, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the U.K., Bosnia and Croatia, Cuba, India, Guatemala and Spain. I am especially grateful to Carol Hwoschinsky, Susan Partnow, Brian Berman, Karen Bonnell, Andrea Cohen and Eryn Kallish, for the many hours they invested in the design and structure of our first Advanced Trainings and our Certification path.

We have now held many Advanced Training series in the U.S., and have a formal 10-month Certification program where participants work with our experienced facilitators for mentoring. TCLP currently has 21 certified facilitators, and more joining the certification track each year. Together, we form a learning community and continue to evolve our curricula and trainings. We have come together many years for facilitator gatherings. We also meet regularly for conference calls and participate in a group e-list where we share our best practices and offer support. We often lead programs and train together. It is our passion to share and practice this work.

Advanced Training is open to all who have participated in a basic training or a training delegation. Learn more and see our schedule here:  Advanced Training.

Jewish-German Compassionate Listening Project

This experience has exceeded in depth anything I could have known I wished for. I will carry this experience in my heart forever.

German participant

I recommend making this project a global ‘must’!

German participant

This was the most wonderful, loving, important project I have ever been a part of. I feel proud to be a part of the human race!

Jewish participant

Our international work moved beyond the Middle East for the first time in 2002 when Beate Ronnefeldt and I co-founded the German-Jewish Project. Beate was active at the time with the European Earthstewards and as a Trainer of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Beate and I brought together 34 Jewish and (non-Jewish) German participants for a 10-day Compassionate Listening healing retreat in Germany in 2002. Participants used the skills to listen to each other’s experience, as well as to “witnesses” ranging from victim to perpetrator during WWII. This deeply moving program continued as a powerful reconciliation model. In 2003, Andrea Cohen and Brian Berman, certified facilitators with TCLP, took over the leadership of this program and they continued with 2 more stellar retreats.

Two German participants produced a film about the project in 2004 called “Embracing Story” which has screened widely in Germany and the U.S. – bringing this work to a much larger audience.

Brian Berman and his wife Lisa, also a certified facilitator, led a couple of “Compassionate Journeys” to Germany and opened them to anyone wanting to help heal the wounds from WWII.

Click here to learn more about our Jewish-German work.

Educational video productions

TCLP has produced two moving documentaries profiling our work on the ground in the Middle East: “Children of Abraham” (1998) and “Crossing the Lines: Palestinians and Israelis Speak With The Compassionate Listening Project” (2002). These videos are used in universities, high schools and religious institutes throughout the world and have been shown widely in public and private screenings. The videos are available to 80,000 public high school students in major cities across the country through contracts with educational television companies. We’ve also produced a 12-minute introduction to the Compassionate LIstening Project, Compassion In Action, which is available for purchase for $10.00. You can also view it on our website and on YouTube.com. A special thank you to Peter Hwoschinsky for all of his work on our first two films.

Len and Libby Traubman, co-founders of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group and mentors for many of the Mid-East dialogue groups across N. America, wrote: “Crossing the Lines is one of the best films there is to help people begin to listen to both peoples, and to truly understand both narratives equally – the beginning of the end of war.”

Compassionate Listening Books

In 2001 we published our guidebook for Compassionate Listening, “Listening with the Heart,” written by Carol Hwoschinsky. Now in its fourth edition, it was also translated into German and published in Germany. This book has spawned Compassionate Listening Practice Groups throughout the world as a grassroots movement. (If you run an open practice group, let us know and we’ll post it on our website on the Practice Group page.)

In 2012 we published Practicing the Art of Compassionate Listening, by Andrea Cohen, with Leah Green and Susan Partnow. It contains most of our introductory curriculum and is available for purchase from our store.

Annual Gathering

From 2003-2011, our Annual Gathering brought Compassionate Listeners old and new together for two inspiring days to deepen our practices to cultivate compassion in our daily lives. The Gatherings took place at a beautiful retreat center outside of Seattle, Washington.

Additional thank yous

I am immensely grateful to our remarkable administrative gurus: Eric Kuhner served for three years as our Administrative Director, Sally Metcalf for one year, Cathy Merchant for two years, Therese Charvet worked in the office in 2008-09 and has helped out since then when needed, Allison Goldstein for a year, and Cyndi Merritt, our current office manager. Eric developed and streamlined our systems over a period of years with his technical expertise; Sally brought us to a new level of organization; Cathy Merchant, who moved to Washington from Princeton, NJ for the position, brought many skills and much dedication to the work. Allison Goldstein brought a host of personal and technical skills to the position in 2011, and Cyndi brings decades of experience from her work with the Nature Conservancy and Parker Palmer’s organization. I am also indebted to our many remarkable board members who have served over the years to guide our development. Many have given above and beyond the call of duty to guide TCLP through challenges and opportunities over the years.


Copyright © 1998-2016 The Compassionate Listening Project.