Compassionate Listening and Other Writings, Essays by Gene Knudsen Hoffman

  • Editor’s Introduction:

    Gene Hoffman engaged in efforts to seek out the deep, psychological causes of violence and to help bring about healing and reconciliation through a process she called “Compassionate Listening.”

    An active Quaker and member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) for over fifty years, she traveled dozens of times to the Middle East and the former Soviet Union during the 1980s and 1990s to do reconciliation work. In 1989, after American planes downed two Libyan planes, she went to Libya with an FOR delegation to meet with Libyan leaders. She has met with and listened to Palestinians and Israelis, and published articles, books, and pamphlets about her experiences, including Pieces of the Mideast Puzzle (1991) and No Royal Road to Reconciliation (1995). She helped to arrange Compassionate Listening sessions between Alaskan hunters and fishers and indigenous people through the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). She has published over a hundred articles as well as books, poems and pamphlets and given innumerable workshops and talks about peacemaking. Her work has inspired numerous others, including Cynthia Monroe, AFSC staff person in Alaska, and Leah Green, founder of The Compassionate Listening Project. Gene has been rightly called a “pioneer” in the Compassionate Listening movement, and has worked with such other notables as Adam Curle, Herb Walters, Virginia Baron, and Richard Deats.

    “Gene is a real prophet,” said Judith Kolokoff, former AFSC regional director in the Pacific Northwest. “And she’s a remarkable facilitator. She has the capacity to bring out the very best of the truth in each individual.”

    Gene’s approach to Compassionate Listening is rooted in both psychological and mystical perspectives. A founder of the Santa Barbara Night Counseling Center in the 1960s, she earned her Masters in pastoral counseling from Goddard College and worked with Ben Weininger, a “Zen-Hasidic” Rogerian psychiatrist. With her background in counseling, Gene came to see all parties in a conflict as “wounded,” as having suffered psychological traumas that need healing.

    But Gene’s work also has a spiritual dimension, as Dennis Rivers, a communication skills instructor from Santa Barbara, observes: “Gene is a Quaker mystic. Her calling was to carry pastoral counseling out of the pastor’s study into public life. What has energized her work over the years is the Quaker teaching that ‘there is that of God in every person.'”

    As Gene herself puts it: “The call, as I see it, is for us to see that within all life is the mystery: God. It is within the contra, the Nazi, the Africaaner, the Israeli, the Palestinian, and the American. By Compassionate Listening we may awaken it and thus learn the partial truth the other is carrying, for another aspect of being human is that we each carry some portion of the truth. To reconcile, we must listen for, discern, and acknowledge this partial truth in everyone.”

    To appreciate fully Gene’s approach to peacemaking and conflict resolution, we need to understand something about her intense inner struggles. To do so, we need to follow her along a spiritual journey that she aptly calls “a peace pilgrim’s progress to inner healing…”


    Table of Contents: 


    Editor’s Preface
    Editor’s Introduction and Biography

    Part I: Witnessing Against McCarthyism
    “The Oath and I”
    Queries on a “single standard of truth”

    Part II: Building Bridges Between Races
    “Trapped by Thomas Jefferson”
    “Let the Rage Uncoil”
    Queries on race relations

    Part III: Breakdown and Breakthroughs
    From Inside the Glass Doors
    “Divorce: What Might Friends Do?”
    “Our Children Are Guests in Our Lives”
    Queries on mutual and self care

    Part IV: Peacemaking From the Inside Out
    “A Peace Pilgrim’s Progress To Inner Healing”
    “No Conflict, No Reconciliation”
    “A New Approach to Peace”
    “Speaking Truth to Power”
    “Reflections on Meeting With Richard Nixon”
    “Disarming the Heart”
    “Hope from Hiroshima”
    “Discovering Your Vocation in the Nuclear Age”
    “Thich Nhat Hanh, The ONam Retreat”
    Queries on peacemaking

    Part V: Soviet-American Citizen Diplomacy
    “Planting Seeds of Hope”
    “To Live Without Enemies”
    “Creation Continues”
    Queries on reconciliation

    Part VI: Reflections on the Spirit
    “Jesus, the Christ, Quakers and I”
    “God and Horror”
    “Listening for Truth”
    “Lester and Gandhi: A Special Friendship”
    Selected Poems from All Possible Surprises
    “Holy Fools”
    Queries on spiritual nurture

    Part VII: Compassionate Listening in the Middle East
    “Listening to the Libyans”
    “Israelis and Palestinians: Two Traumatized Peoples”
    “Crevices in the Rock”
    “After the Peace Accords ‘What?'”
    “An Enemy is One Whose Story We Have Not Heard”
    “Compassionate Listening-First Step to Reconciliation?”
    Queries on listening

    Part VIII: Listening for the Future
    “Listening Key to Healing Wounds in Mideast” by Leah Green
    “Report on Compassionate Listening Training” by Carol Hwoschinsky
    “Why There is Hope for Humanity” by Gene Hoffman
    “Aging: A Time of New Possibilities” by Gene Hoffman
    Concluding queries