Man treks 4,000 miles for listening tour

SALISBURY, Mass. (AP) — It has often been said that people don’t listen to each other anymore, but Andrew Forsthoefel is trying to change all that.

Forsthoefel, author of the autobiography “Walking to Listen,” will share stories from the 4,000-mile walk he took from Pennsylvania to California with patrons at Salisbury Public Library on Feb. 21.

The Chicago native graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 2011 but said he wasn’t done learning.

“I just felt that something was missing and I felt compelled to embark on this long walk, focused around listening to others,” Forsthoefel said. “I had this intuition that I wanted to begin seeing everybody as my teachers. I wanted to see them as if they had something worthy to share and listen to.”

Most people never take the time to listen to one another, he added.

“We never actually get to know who else we are sitting in a room with,” he said. “We never bother listening to each other. When we don’t listen to one another, we don’t get to know one another.”

Looking to get to know as many fellow Americans as he could, Forsthoefel set out on a journey on foot from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He walked to New Orleans and all the way to Half Moon Bay, California.

“I was walking to listen,” Forsthoefel said. “It was really just that simple.”

Forsthoefel walked roughly 4,000 miles with the words “Walking to Listen” scrawled on his backpack. He recorded interviews with people he met along the way.

“I had questions and I want to go listen to what the answers might be,” he said.

Forsthoefel developed a practice he calls “trustworthy listening” while on his journey, which he said can only come from a sincere interest in other people.

“Trustworthy listening is the ability and willingness to fundamentally and primarily be with,” Forsthoefel said. “It is going to be so easy to abort the relationship or terminate the conversation. Can you hang in there? Can you be with them, not against them? With them.”

Being “with” others is more difficult than it may seem, Forsthoefel said.

“It is hard to be with someone you disagree with, it is hard to be with a thought in your own mind that you don’t like,” Forsthoefel said. “But can you listen to that, too?”

The 11-month walk was a “personal healing,” he said.

“If we don’t have an understanding of what trustworthy listening is, we will forever remain gridlocked and at war with one another,” Forsthoefel said. “If there is not an understanding of what listening is and a willingness to practice it, we are not going to evolve, we are not going to heal. There can be no reconciliation, there can be no moving forward.”

While raised in what he called a “progressive Catholic household,” Forsthoefel is also interested in Eastern philosophy and said proper listening can be an “absolutely spiritual” experience.

“Listening is a practice,” he said. “Trustworthy listening is a practice that will transform the practitioner.”

Forsthoefel stepped off the road in 2012 and published “Walking to Listen” in 2017. He will share some of his experiences at Salisbury Public Library during the free presentation Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

“I’m sort of on the Massachusetts library tour for the spring,” Forsthoefel said. “I’m going to go wherever the wind blows me, and I’m just getting started.”

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