A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE COMPASSIONATE LISTENING PROJECT
by Leah Green, founder
The Compassionate Listening Project began in 1990 as Mid-East Citizen Diplocmacy, under the umbrella of the Earthstewards Network on Bainbridge Island, Washington. 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, he 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 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. This served my great passion for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and healing, which I had been involved in since 1982.
In 1996, after leading nine delegations, I sought out Gene Knudsen Hoffman (1919 – 2010), who became my trusted mentor. I adopted Gene’s listening framework as an overarching framework for the delegations and Gene and I traveled together to launch the Compassionate Listening Project in Israel and Palestine.
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, I founded a non-profit organization to continue the work, and several years later the name was officially changed from Mid East Citizen Diplomacy to the Compassionate Listening Project. (Originally we decided to call our work together "The Listening Project", but the name was already being used by colleagues of ours, so Gene requested that we call it "Compassionate Listening", after Thich Nhat Hanh's description.)
COMPASSIONATE LISTENING JOURNEYS
CLP has now guided over 700 American citizens in 33 delegations 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 from both sides. 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 delegations as our group facilitator until 2002.
With the support of Israeli and Palestinian colleagues, CLP has built trusting relationships across political, religious and social divides throughout Israel and Palestine. We also bring Israelis and Palestinians together for Compassionate Listening trainings and events. CLP offers a powerful conflict resolution model and concrete skill building for our participants. We have visited Jordan on three delegations, and in 2002 I expanded our regional involvement with a successful delegation to Syria and Lebanon, co-led by Munteha Shukralla.
CLP 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, active network of informed leaders across N. America 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 communities and political groups, on college campuses and within the peace movement.
COMPASSIONATE LISTENING TRAINING
As the Journeys 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 to 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.
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 (and Kashmir), Guatemala, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Spain.
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
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
ADVANCED TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION
Beginning in 1999, a core group began to meet together with us to practice in the U.S. Sometimes Gene Knudsen Hoffman joined us for these weekends – once she hosted a large group of us at her home and 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. Most 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. 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 held many Advanced Trainings in the U.S., and have a Facilitator Certification program where participants work with our experienced facilitators for mentoring. CLP currently has 35 independent, 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 came 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.
JEWISH-GERMAN COMPASSIONATE LISTENING PROJECT
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 one of the first German Trainers 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 victims to perpetrators during WWII. This deeply moving program continued as a powerful reconciliation model. In 2003, Andrea Cohen and Brian Berman, certified facilitators with CLP, took over the leadership of this program and they continued with two 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 and Lisa Berman, certified facilitators who met and fell in love during our first Jewish-German project (a truly Jewish-German couple), led a couple of “Compassionate Journeys” to Germany and opened them to anyone wanting to help heal the wounds from WWII.
To read a report from our first Jewish-German project, click here.
EDUCATIONAL VIDEO PRODUCTION
CLP 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. You can view Children of Abraham, Compassionate In Action and other short films on Media page. 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.”
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, written by Andrea Cohen, with Leah Green and Susan Partnow. It contains most of our introductory curriculum and is intended for both individuals and facilitators. This book is used in college courses in N. America. Both books are available in our store. It's the perfect book for starting your own practice group.
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. Who knows - with the new wave of facilitators coming in, perhaps we'll revive the Annual Gathering.
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 Keene Merchant for two years, Therese Charvet worked in the office for two years and helped out afterward when needed, Allison Goldstein for a year, Cyndi Merritt for 5.5 years, and our current office guru, Morgan Hughes. 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 great dedication to the work. Allison Goldstein brought a host of personal and technical skills to the position in 2011, and Cyndi brought decades of experience from her professional administrative 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 CLP through challenges and opportunities over the years.
The community of facilitators - 35 at this time - is a remarkable group of humans who I have had the great pleasure to know, work with and learn from. Each one has contributed to the evolution of our work.
And of course, we would never have been able to accomplish any of this without our dedicated community of donors and the foundations who have gifted us with large and small grants.
It has been a great honor to accomplish a mountain of work with this small but mighty band of warriors of the heart. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all!
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." ~ Margaret Mead