Case #361
Title: Compassionate Listening Helps to Heal a Community
Summary: In Port Angeles, Washington, the Makah tribe's resumption of whaling had aroused intense racism, opposition to whaling, and challenges to "outdated hundred-year-old treaties." Port Angeles, the largest town near the Makah Reservation, found itself struggling to deal constructively with the intense feelings generated by the tribe's decision. The local American Friend's Service Committee?s Indian Program, struggling with the hostility and seeming hopelessness of the situation, decided to try the method of "Compassionate Listening."

This approach uses confidential safe listening sessions and is designed to avoid putting people on the defensive. Trained listeners tell participants they're just going to listen; these are not meetings for discussion. "We want to create room for participants to express their values, feelings, and beliefs in an atmosphere of understanding," says the organizing group in their mission statement.

The approach takes careful planning. People need to be trained in compassionate listening. In Port Angeles people were interested in being trained as listeners because the conflict is so difficult for their town. Many people involved in the conflict are grateful for the opportunity to tell their side of the story free from criticism and attack.

Many people struggle with how to reconcile support for tribal rights with their opposition to killing whales, and feel unfairly accused of racism on that account. The listening sessions may help clarify values and feelings and raise additional concerns.

Several groups in Port Angeles have responded with hope, to what they see as a possible way to build more understanding with members of the tribes even closer to them than the Makah, the Lower Elwha and the Jamestown S'Klallam. These tribal members face every day the deep-seated anti-Indian feelings that unfortunately seem to be all too common in "border town" communities near reservations, and which are exacerbated by the current controversy.

In response to this awareness, an additional listening project has begun to learn more about how it is for Indian people in Port Angeles. This project is a direct outgrowth of training in compassionate listening.

Complex feelings often accompany conflict. Creating a safe environment for people to encourage them to speak about all levels of a conflict allows effective dialogue - from the personal through the communal. Encouraged by a mediator, both sides of the whaling conflict were able to express their differences and get to a bigger issue, that of underlying racial tension between the groups. All parties felt threatened and vulnerable, and the compassionate listening technique allowed them to safely express their views as a step toward healing the entire community. The possibility of community healing, leading to a peaceful coexistence of diverse ethnic groups, extended to other communities with similar ethnic group tension.

The compassionate listening technique can be used in other situations. Ground rules are simple, although a mediator is required to keep everyone on track. All parties have a stake in building peaceful communities, which grow into peaceful regions, which grow into peaceful states.

Both AFSC and people in Port Angeles are looking for opportunities to deal with genuine conflict in ways that respect feelings, beliefs and values without dismissing or devaluing other people. Their effort, in the AFSC tradition, is "To See What Love Can Do." (From the Pacific Northwest AFSC Newsletter, Summer 2000.)

Location: Washington State, US
Action: Peace/Conflict Resolution
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: Regional (within a country)
Categories: Peace/Conflict Resolution
Year(s): 2001
Outcome in progress
Source: ?Friends Bulletin?, September 2001, page 8
Prepared By: sl 11/01
Rating: 1