I’m a writer, speaker, and peace activist living in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. After graduating from Middlebury College, I spent eleven months trekking across the United States with a sign on my pack that read “Walking to Listen,” recording interviews with the people I met along the way. I co-produced a radio documentary about this project that was featured on Transom.org and This American Life, and my book, Walking to Listen (Bloomsbury, 2017), tells the tale of the journey.
Drawing from the experiences of my year-long initiation on the road, and from the abundance of lived fodder that comes from an active contemplative practice, I offer my work as a contribution to the collective project of learning how to be human together with love, by listening—united by our diversity, empowered by sharing the inherent vulnerability of being alive, and freed by opening to truth.
This work comes in three ways: I write, putting my wonder to words. I speak, spinning stories and mining them for insight. And I teach, exploring the practice of listening as a catalyst for connective presence, personal transformation, and peacemaking.
It’s hard to be human, and even harder to be human with love, in a daily and immediate kind of way, embodied, as love must be. My work flies on two wings, and this is one of them. The second wing is another simple premise: There is no journey more exhilarating, more trying, or more ultimately fulfilling than that of attempting to embody love as a human being. This is a journey that is never happening anywhere other than here or any time other than now.
But what is love? That very question is the work, the work of understanding and living the answer, and of failing to do so, over and over again, and of continuing onward anyway.
It is a catastrophe to be born, considering the staggering implications of our daily failures to live in love. I do this work—speaking, writing, and teaching—precisely because of this catastrophe. And because it is only in earnest, collaborative connection with others that the redemptive beauty of being alive arises. We don’t have to do this thing alone, or in our isolated cultural bubbles. We can explore and share the whole heartbreaking spectrum of our lives here together, united in our uncertainties, fragilities, and hopes. In our humanness. This kind of connection, based on vulnerability and built by listening, is not only the great gift available to us as humans. It is also our obligation. Our work.
My work is intended to catalyze this connection. I do it to spark an unlikely unity in our diversity, and to challenge that which would separate us from each other and from ourselves. My intention is that listeners, readers, and participants find something useful in my work for their own sovereign journeys: a tool, or some nourishment, maybe even medicine.
I wouldn’t be doing this work if I thought the human spectacle was an inevitable, irreparable disaster. I believe in us, in our resilience, in our goodness. I’m motivated by the conviction that there is a way to be human together, right here and now, without succumbing to the greed, hatred, and delusion that have been motivating humans for ages. There is a way to be here such that our lives are themselves transformative offerings of peace.
I’ve seen it done: remarkable human beings living love in the course of their own unremarkable days, walking the path of wisdom toward a world in which the practice of peace hasn’t been forgotten or passed off as someone else’s responsibility. A world in which we all bear the burden and privilege of prioritizing peace, now, in our own minds and with each other. We can live in that world, in love, but we will have to walk there, and we can’t do it alone. We must travel together, all of us. So long as even one is excluded, we will never get there, here, to peace.
I speak. I write. I facilitate conversations, listening circles, and workshops. These are my offerings to the collective journey—our journey—of being alive here, for a moment, together.
Dr. Dan O’Connell, teacher at St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, DE
“I have seen dozens of renowned authors and lecturers attempt to engage our students. None succeeded more completely than Andrew Forsthoefel last Sunday. After an hour of funny and soulful stories, our students were hungry for much more. Andrew’s writing and speaking are wonderful, however, his greatest talent is his ability to catalyze concern, self-awareness and community.”
Cam, student at St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, DE
“I think one of Andrew’s most valuable points was that sometimes you just need to shut up and listen. To not have your own agenda in each conversation, and to be open to the stories of others. His talk left me feeling more empathetic, engaged, and aware. The workshop was like a slap to the face, reminding me of the impossible breadth and depth of the world all around me, and our unique opportunity to explore it.”
Ellie Moore, teacher at Alzar School, Cascade, ID
“It is rare for young people—perhaps all of us—to feel truly listened to, respected, and considered as powerful equals. As I watched my students engage with Andrew, I saw them begin to adopt some of the ease and grace with which he listens, questions, and speaks. He softened their adolescent edges by acknowledging the dignity they each carried in their own stories.”
Marion, student at St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, DE
“The silence that we shared at the beginning of the workshop allowed a personal connection to form between everyone in the room. It helped me realize that silence can be as much if not more powerful than words. Hearing other people’s stories and questions helped me get to know another side of them. I feel more comfortable being in a vulnerable state, for that vulnerability plays a part in allowing us to connect with other people.”
Dr. Laura Rossi-Le, Vice President and Dean of the Undergraduate College, Endicott College, Beverly, MA
“Andrew’s talk and workshop focused on the act of close and meaningful listening and helped students plan and implement their own walks to listen. They have come away with a better understanding of themselves as a result of the connections they have made with others. Walking to listen puts us in close touch with our shared humanity.”
Lauren, student at Endicott College, Beverly, MA
“The thing that I know will stay with me forever is not only what I learned about other people and how one topic can impact them differently, it’s the things I learned about myself in the process that I would have never realized if it weren’t for this walk.”
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