I speak at schools, businesses, retreat centers, social justice advocacy groups, and community organizations—in short, wherever communities gather to tell stories, investigate the human experience, heal, evolve, and crowdsource wisdom.

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time

In 2011, at 23 years old, I walked out my mom’s back door near Philadelphia with a backpack, an audio recorder, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” I had just graduated from college, and I had so many questions: Who am I—as a young man, as Andrew? Who are we—as diverse human beings, as America? Why do we seem to hate each other so much? How can we learn to live with one another in peace, and even in love? I resolved to walk every step of the way, on the highways, seeing everyone as my teacher. Nearly one year after I began, 4,000 miles from my mother’s house, I made it to the Pacific Ocean outside San Francisco.

This talk explores my transcontinental listening walk: stories and insights from the road on coming of age, courage and fear, and the art of radical connection; audio recordings of my interviews; photographs. Throughout the talk, I invite the audience to consider the practice of listening. What is deep listening? How is it an integral part of the way forward, as we seek to understand and heal our multifarious national divides, and the schisms in our own minds and hearts? Why don’t we listen? Why must we?

A robust Q&A discussion follows—an opportunity to walk the walk: to listen with and for one another.

 

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time

At 23—freshly graduated, unemployed, and burning with questions—I walked out my mom’s back door in suburban Pennsylvania with a backpack, an audio recorder, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” Nearly one year later, I made it to the Pacific Ocean outside San Francisco. This talk explores what happened in between, on foot across the highways of America: stories, insights, and the voices of the people themselves. The questions that fueled my walk, and that fuel this talk: What is coming of age and how is it happening, or not happening, in America today? How do we find unity in our diversity as global citizens? What is fear and how do we engage it, both in ourselves and when we perceive it in others? How do we gracefully navigate this human journey, or at least stumble through it mindfully? What is healing? What is listening? What are these troubling times asking of us?

This talk is a continuation of my transcontinental listening walk: an opportunity to wander together in wonder at this shared experience of being human.

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.”

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.”

 

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.”

 

Listening: A Path to Peace

What if listening weren’t a natural function that everyone was born with, nor a rare, God-given talent? What if listening was, in fact, a learned art, in the way that dancing is an art? A practice, in the way that meditation is a practice?

Listening is an apprenticeship from which there isn’t a single moment’s rest. It is a tool for leadership, a critical aspect of mental health, and the essence of spiritual practice. It is the first step toward healing the trauma of sexism and racism, indeed the first step toward healing all trauma. To listen deeply is to move from fear and its many compulsions—to dominate, possess, control, divide, and hate—toward a more receptive, inclusive approach to reality motivated by the desire to connect rather than compete, to support rather than win, to include rather than eradicate.

But what even is listening? What are the causes and conditions of its arising? What are its constituent parts? What would become of us if no one understood and practiced this most essential discipline? On the other hand, who would we become if we all listened first?

If we all knew what listening was and how to do it, no one would have to give a talk about it. Unfortunately, listeners are an endangered species today, and needed more than ever. This talk is one of the ways I work to keep listening alive.

I focus the content of this talk in three primary ways, depending on the context:

Listening as activism

  • the work of being an ally
  • catalyzing truth and reconciliation
  • revolutionizing masculinity

Listening as leadership

  • in business and academia
  • in mentoring and team-building

Listening as spiritual practice

  • addressing depression, anxiety, and mental health crises
  • evolution of consciousness in mind & heart

Listening: A Path to Peace

What if listening weren’t a natural function that everyone was born with, nor a rare, God-given talent? What if listening was, in fact, a learned art, in the way that dancing is an art? A practice, in the way that meditation is a practice?

Listening is an apprenticeship from which there isn’t a single moment’s rest. It is a tool for leadership, a critical aspect of mental health, and the essence of spiritual practice. It is the first step toward healing the trauma of sexism and racism, indeed the first step toward healing all trauma. To listen deeply is to move from fear and its many compulsions—to dominate, possess, control, divide, and hate—toward a more receptive, inclusive approach to reality motivated by the desire to connect rather than compete, to support rather than win, to include rather than eradicate.

But what even is listening? What are the causes and conditions of its arising? What are its constituent parts? What would become of us if no one understood and practiced this most essential discipline? On the other hand, who would we become if we all listened first?

If we all knew what listening was and how to do it, no one would have to give a talk about it. Unfortunately, listeners are an endangered species today, and needed more than ever. This talk is one of the ways I work to keep listening alive.

I focus the content of this talk in three primary ways, depending on the context:

Listening as activism

the work of being an ally
catalyzing truth and reconciliation
revolutionizing masculinity

Listening as leadership

in business and academia
in mentoring and team-building

Listening as spiritual practice

addressing depression, anxiety, and mental health crises
evolution of consciousness in mind & heart

What if listening was the source of wisdom? Listening, the healing medicine? Listening, a catalyst for transformation? Listening, a path to peace?

Coming of Age, Coming Home

In order to understand coming of age, we must first understand adulthood. What qualities make an adult an adult? What if body hair, increased physical strength, improved intellect, or the quantity and quality of sexual experiences or violent encounters were not the measures of true adulthood?

What is an adult? The hypothesis: an adult is one who no longer needs to be the center of the universe, who lives with the paradox of their insignificant tininess and the simultaneous import of their every thought, word, and deed.

How are such human beings made? It doesn’t just happen. Becoming an adult requires proper mentorship, study, ritual, trial, and community. Without a wisely framed and supported coming-of-age, children face an often insurmountable array of obstacles in the journey of coming home to themselves. They are left instead to wander homelessly throughout their years, looking for themselves in their lovers or partners, their bosses or gurus or therapists, their work, their achievements, violence, sexuality, political movements, religious ideologies, self-help retreats—a spiritual hamster wheel.

As adults, what do we owe our children? How can we assist them in their journey home? And how do we traverse a cultural terrain bereft of meaningful initiation—in which the military, corporations, and even educational institutions exploit (perhaps unknowingly, perhaps not) the motivating impulse that necessitates a coming-of-age rooted in community: the impulse to be seen and heard, to be validated and loved, to belong?

The invitation for those of us who did not inherit a resonant coming of age tradition from our ancestors is to create a new way. This talk is a contribution to that creation.

Coming of Age, Coming Home

In order to understand coming of age, we must first understand adulthood. What qualities make an adult an adult? What if body hair, increased physical strength, improved intellect, or the quantity and quality of sexual experiences or violent encounters were not the measures of true adulthood?

What is an adult? The hypothesis: an adult is one who no longer needs to be the center of the universe, who lives with the paradox of their insignificant tininess and the simultaneous import of their every thought, word, and deed.

How are such human beings made? It doesn’t just happen. Becoming an adult requires proper mentorship, study, ritual, trial, and community. Without a wisely framed and supported coming-of-age, children face an often insurmountable array of obstacles in the journey of coming home to themselves. They are left instead to wander homelessly throughout their years, looking for themselves in their lovers or partners, their bosses or gurus or therapists, their work, their achievements, violence, sexuality, political movements, religious ideologies, self-help retreats—a spiritual hamster wheel.

As adults, what do we owe our children? How can we assist them in their journey home? And how do we traverse a cultural terrain bereft of meaningful initiation—in which the military, corporations, and even educational institutions exploit (perhaps unknowingly, perhaps not) the motivating impulse that necessitates a coming-of-age rooted in community: the impulse to be seen and heard, to be validated and loved, to belong?

The invitation for those of us who did not inherit a resonant coming of age tradition from our ancestors is to create a new way. This talk is a contribution to that creation.

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.”

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.”

 

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.”

LET'S TALK.

If you'd like to schedule a speaking engagement, workshop, or interview, please contact me at walkingtolisten@gmail.com

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