At home in Seattle, Gil also offers communication workshops for groups and is building trainings for corporations. He was contacted by an LGBT program and he recently gave a powerful presentation on Compassionate Listening at Burning Man. In his public speaking engagements, he uses his own story of transformation, including his time as a soldier in the Israeli army. We have no doubt that Gil will touch many people in their journeys to transform conflict.
Sharon Gubbay Helfer has always been drawn to dialog. Growing up in Montreal, Sharon’s Jewish roots stretched to Calcutta, where her father’s parents had emigrated from Baghdad; and to Alexandria, Egypt, where her mother’s parents had emigrated from Turkey and Georgia. The search to untangle the complexities of her ancestral roots and to discover the meaning of Judaism in her own life led Sharon to Israel, where she met her husband. Back in Montreal as they raised their three boys, Sharon felt the need to provide her sons with a rich, textured background in Judaism which led her to earn a PhD in Jewish Studies. Delving more deeply reignited Sharon’s interest in dialogue. Both the Canadian and the Quebec governments funded her postdoctoral research in the area of “difficult dialogues.”
She had heard about Compassionate Listening. She didn’t know what it was but wanted it. She found funding to bring Leah Green to Montreal for a two-day workshop for the members of the Montreal Dialog Group and others. It was a powerful experience which prompted one of the participants, Tali Goodfriend, to go on to train with Leah to become a facilitator herself. Tali is the second Montrealer to be certified, the first being Brigitte Gagnon, Montreal’s first French-speaking CL certified facilitator.
Sharon participated in the November delegation last year and calls it a “game-changer”. The powerful experience both of bonding with her fellow participants and of listening to Israelis and Palestinians from across the spectrum, convinced Sharon that this was an approach that she needed to integrate and share.
Sharon’s focus today is in the place where her “feet are on the ground,” in Quebec, Canada, where there are painful tensions between whites and First Nations people, the French and English, etc. The ten-session Compassionate Listening practice group she facilitated confirmed the fact that “we have issues within our own hearts, our own living rooms and communities.” She is taking steps to create listening sessions with First Nations people, and hopes to expand her work to the polarized French and English populations in time. In her role as an oral historian and Research Associate with the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Sharon will has the perfect venue for these gatherings. (Ed: The Centre sponsored and hosted Sharon’s first professional level two-day workshop in late October, for which she received excellent reviews. Congratulations Sharon and a very warm welcome as CLP’s newest facilitator!)
Will Osmun got an early start with learning to listen empathically when he volunteered to work on a suicide hotline in the 1980s. Since then, he went through mediation training twice and the Compassionate Listening Basic and Advanced trainings. When Will took part in the CL Journey to Israel/Palestine in November 2015, he felt that, as an atheist, he had no religious framework or justification for the conflict. This allowed him to be a neutral witness. Will says, “When I closed my eyes, it didn’t matter which side of the border I was on – I heard the same thing – deep love of country and deep pride – a desperation to own their space and fit in. It’s kind of baffling when you boil it down – pretty much the same argument.” He will be part of our 32nd Journey in Israel and Palestine, during which he will assist with facilitation.
Will is currently completing his PhD in Leadership and Change at Antioch University. Will’s work here in the US is primarily in race relations although it’s shifting into larger areas of equity. CL is a critical tool for exploring race, gender, class relations here in the US. Of his recent work to provide “wrap-around” social services in a very poor area of Detroit, Will says it’s been fascinating to take these skills into this arena. The organization he worked for is headquartered in the suburbs of Detroit and he was told by everyone there, “Don’t go into the inner city – it’s dangerous.” He got similar warnings before going to Palestine. In both cases, Will went, and he found “some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met.” Compassionate listening currently informs his work at the Grand Rapids Urban league as well as in his dissertation.
More than a handful of CL facilitators have worked in prisons over the years. Several are certified in a powerful Quaker-based program called “Alternatives to Violence”, and weave CL into their AVP workshops in prison, including seasoned CL facilitator Yael Petretti of Easthampton, Massachusetts.
Yael writes: “Compassionate Listening has served as a wonderful foundation for my work with the Alternatives to Violence Project in the Osborn men’s prison in CT. Our exercises are often interchangeable as we work together to change their way of being in the world from one of pervasive violence and isolation to one of human connection and caring.
I always learn so much from the participants. Recently, a young man named Joshua whom I’ve known for two years, took my hands and spoke to me in front of the group. As he looked into my eyes very intently, he said, ‘I love…how you see the world. You see the beauty in people. You are showing me how to see the world through your eyes. Thank you.’
When I saw Joshua this past weekend, I told him that a few times when I was losing my cool over something, I’d think to myself that I had to live up to his message to me, and that it really helped. Joshua told me how much it meant to him to know that he had actually helped me, too.
I think it’s important to convey that CL is a life-long practice and that we all get triggered. But the practice of CL shows us the way back to our hearts and that’s the pathway that we learn to strengthen. I feel honored to learn from and with the remarkable souls I’ve met in prison.”
~ Participant, 2016
As we work to bring compassion to those who suffer, both close to home and in troubled areas around the globe, we often fail to attend to the suffering that lives within our own hearts. Self-care, a critical component of self-compassion, is frequently tainted with the judgmental labels of self-indulgent, wimpy or selfish. Many of us have grown up in a culture that supports denial, “toughing it out” or serving others as the highest priority – which means that granting ourselves the same loving care we grant to others often requires an extra measure of courage.
How do you say no to others’ requests without feeling guilty? Or step into your own shoes with love and compassion when we experience that harsh voice of self-judgment arising?
~ Participant, 2016
By living and working together while at Maher, delegates will build relationships while learning about their assumptions, values, and cultural conditioning. And we will teach and weave in the skills of Compassionate Listening in all that we do, engaging in listening circles daily. Participants will find Maher an inspiring example of social innovation. The “Magic of Maher” lies in its living embodiment of compassion, with love as the basis of everything they do.
Truly they are miracle workers accomplishing so much with very limited resources. Learn more here, and look for links to the film, Sister Heart; and the book Women Healing Women by Will Keepin & Cynthia Brix.
Consider joining our delegation (January 11-28) – we have one spot left, plus several openings for Indian delegates in case you have friends or colleagues there – funding has been secured so they will be able to participate without any expense. Contact Susan Partnow and visit Global Citizen Journey.