By Leah Green, Director
The Compassionate Listening Project
A unique gathering took place on May 25, 2002 at Town Hall in Seattle Washington, attended by approximately 300 citizens.
In an effort to deepen the local dialogue on peace in the Middle East, attorney Rich Fisher and Bill Aal, from Tools for Change Institute, initiated “Conflict in the Middle East: Responding with Faith, Moving toward Healing.” Early on, the organizers decided to model the event on the principals of both Conversation Cafes and Compassionate Listening.
The meeting opened with beautiful prayers from a Rabbi, an Imam, and a Minister, and introductions from the organizers. Andrea Cohen, Compassionate Listening facilitator and director of our video, Children of Abraham, then introduced the Compassionate Listening Project and showed the video to a highly receptive audience.
Afterwards, Congressmen Jim McDermott and Dennis Kucinich addressed the gathering and fielded questions before the participants resumed their own dialogue in small circles.
Congreessman Dennis Kucinich, a visionary democrat from Ohio’s 10th district, chairs the Progressive Caucus in congress. He recently introduced legislation to create a Department of Peace, to “make non-violence an organizing principle in our domestic and foreign policy, and to seek to make war archaic.” The legislation is currently supported by 43 members of congress.
Dennis turned out to be a strong advocate for Compassionate Listening. During his heart-felt remarks yesterday, he said:
“If we can change ourselves, we can change the world. We’re not the victims of the world we see, we’re the victims of the way we see the world. This is the essence of Compassionate listening: seeing the person next to you as a part of yourself.
“We need to discern the internal conditions which create war: the belief that we have nothing in common with the next person, the next group, or nation. As the Compassionate Listening Project has pointed out, when you approach a moment without judgement and can connect with the sacredness of the agency of each soul, we can transform the moment – we can transform war into peace.
“It is not too late to create a new world. Through Compassionate Listening we can create moments where we can evolve.”
Two days prior to the town hall dialogue, our local NPR affiliate, KUOW, interviewed Dennis, along with the event organizers and Munteha Shukralla and Andrea Cohen from the Compassionate Listening Project. Here are some inspiring clips from Dennis’ interview:
“I think that this is an important moment in the history of our nation and the history of our world where we can tap the potential that each one of us has for evolving and helping others grow, and to help create a more compassionate peaceful world.
“What we’re talking about is human consciousness. As each one of us thinks, so the world may think, as each one of us chooses, so chooses the world. We really negate the power of our own humanity when we think that our thoughts, words and deeds make no difference to anyone else. If each one of us makes a commitment in our own life to bring about more peace, and works interactively and reciprocally with others in our lives, then we make it a better world.
“I voted ‘present’ to the congressional vote to support Israel’s military actions against the Palestinians because I believe what Thich Nhat Hanh says, that if we take sides, we cannot fulfill our task of reconciliation. I think we need to listen to the suffering of both the Israelis and the Palestinians and find ways to help our brothers and sisters relieve themselves of this tremendous burden of violence. And the way to do this is to be an honest broker, to not take sides, and to work to help both sides come to an agreement.
“I seek to endorse the program for Compassionate Listening which is certainly going to be a significant part of the discussion that we have in Seattle. It’s very important to begin efforts to try to heal the world, and we need to know that we have the potential and the power to do that. There’s a lot of thinking that says ‘Well, the world is going to hell in a hand basket and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ That’s just not true. We have the ability to recreate our experience, our existence, and it starts with the human heart. When we try to connect to each other heart-to-heart, and listen with the heart, the heart is multi-sensate; the heart can comprehend suffering, the heart can comprehend transcendence. We need to tap those powers that we have to change our lives and the lives of others.
“What the Compassionate Listening Project talks about that I think is so powerful is that it’s really a practice: of individual preparation, of finding one’s personal vision, of centering, of looking at the issues in one’s own life and then working through them with other people. We need to begin to see each other as having common claims – as citizens of a common planet, and the highest claim is to give each other the opportunity for growth and fulfillment. And that’s the path of love.”
This event served to rekindle my faith and I’m grateful to the organizers and all who were involved. So many people are inspired to work for peace in their own lives, to work on behalf of peace in the Middle East, and to hold Israelis and Palestinians with compassion. And it is so important for us to remember that there are political leaders such as Jim McDermott and Dennis Kucinich, who are out there working on our behalf in the public sector to support peace and Compassionate Listening, and who are speaking and acting from the heart.