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Adopted from materials provided by
Rural Southern Voice for Peace (RSVP)
Tel: 828-675-5933


Rural Southern Voice for Peace does Listening Projects <> and trains others to do them. Trained listeners go door to door asking community members heartful questions about controversial public issues. They often use strategic questions <>.

Since such conversations can easily slide into debate and polarization unless well handled, RSVP recommends that any ORGANIZATION doing a Listening Project should do the full-scale preparations and trainings that RSVP offers.

However, conscientious individuals and groups can often do a lot of good by doing "listen to your neighbor" projects on their own. RSVP urges such citizens to follow RSVP's basic principles and process guidelines which are given below. RSVP asks that If you do undertake a "listen to your neighbor" project, that you send them a report on how it went.



RSVP notes that there are two ways to do a "listen to your neighbor" project like this. One is to do it formally. "Present it as a public opinion survey you are doing to help you understand what your neighbors are thinking about the current situation. People like to be surveyed. If you do this, you might want to write down some of what people say. The second way is to do it informally, like in a neighbor-to-neighbor talk. Wait until you've left the dialogue before you write down anything from these sessions. Each way has its benefits and drawbacks. Do what feels comfortable to you."

RSVP has developed some questions about the war, which I've modified somewhat and listed below. You'll also find general reflective questions about 911 at <>. And, of course, you can create questions of your own. The strategic questioning guidelines referenced above are very useful in creating good questions.

In a formal survey approach, questions are "ordered so that the simpler, easier questions come first, allowing time to build trust and mutual respect. If needed, you can skip some questions, and put questions in your own words -- especiallly in the informal survey. You will be asking your own follow-up questions so the dialogue may take unexpected turns. Just be sensitive and let it flow. If the other person starts to close up and defend their views, back off and turn to less challenging questions. Remember, the goal is not to convert people, but to open avenues for genuine exploration of the issues."

Here are RSVP's guidelines, which they urge you to take seriously:

1. Our goal is not to change the other person. Our goal is simply to: (a) enable the other person to express their feelings, including those that are different from our own and (b) listen, empathize and provide a safe place for open thought and reflection on issues of concern (such as "The War on Terrorism" and non-military alternatives for peace and security).

2. If you can't agree with 75% of what a person says, start off by focusing on the 25% areas of agreement. This helps build trust and understanding.

3. In addition, try to empathize with the fears and feelings that are behind the 75% of ideas you don't agree on. For example, you may not agree with someone who supports bombing that harms civilians, but you can empathize with (understand) their intense fear and repulsion with terrorism and their desire for a solution -- and even their desire to take military action, especially if they have little or no understanding of other options.

4. It's good to begin with simple questions. As trust and mutual respect is built, you can begin to ask questions that help the other person go deeper into their feelings and reflect on new ideas or possibilities. However, your questions should not be so challenging that the other person turns to simply defending their ideas. Be sensitive and compassionate. Simply plant the seeds of open dialogue, reflection and exploration.

5. With each primary question asked, it is important to ask follow-up questions that can help the person go deeper into their thoughts and feelings. It's OK to spend a long time digging deep into one question and it's OK to get side-tracked on other related issues.

6. Through active listening you can respond to someone's answers to a question by (1) repeating or summarizing back to the person what they are saying or (2) asking clarifying questions. Clarifying questions help you better understand what a person is saying and feeling. They can also help a person clarify their own thoughts and feelings. Here are some examples of clarifying questions:

"It sounds like you really feel terrorism is such a threat to all of us, including your family, that you think we need to do whatever it takes to stop it?" (Note how this needs to be voiced as a question, allowing the person to speak again and correct you if necessary).

"Are you worried about the safety of your family?"

"Why do you feel the international courts are not a dependable way to bring terrorists to justice?"



1. Our nation's response to the Nov. 11 tragedies was inspiring - particularly in the area of love, care and support that has been given to the victims and their families. What do you remember most about that?

2. How are you feeling about what's happened so far in the military actions since September 11th?

3. We all hope that terrorists like this can be brought to justice. What do you think is the best way for that to happen?

4. What is your understanding of why our nation was targeted on September 11?

5. What do you think about trying to understand why some people hate other people or do horrible things to them? Is it worth the effort?

6. In trying to prevent terrorist acts from happening again, some people suggest increasing security measures and others hope that destroying known terrorist groups will do the job. Can you imagine other ways we could reduce the amount of terrorism in the world?

7. Many people have concerns about how this war will affect us, our children and our future. What concerns do you have?

8. Some people are concerned about innocent people being killed in such wars and how the families and others who see people they care about being killed may some day want to strike back at us for revenge. Others are concerned that the longer we fight wars in Muslim countries, the more Muslims who were once on our side will become angry at us over the killing. So the cycle of violence may just keep growing. How do you feel about that possibility?

9. Do you have any concerns regarding the instability that may occur in the Middle East and South Asia as a result of this war?

10. Given the potential problems with using war as our primary approach here, many people are seeking alternatives to war for bringing such terrorists to justice, [You can mention here briefly a few alternatives you may know of, such as diplomacy, economic pressure and the use of international courts of justice.] How do you feel about giving more consideration to alternatives to war in situations like this?

11. What would you like to see happen to make things better for our people and our nation?