Listening is hard work, and often uncomfortable.
But author Andrew Forsthoefel, who spent nearly a year walking across America before writing his book, Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time, calls listening one of life's greatest privileges.
The Middlebury College graduate visited Berkshire on Sept. 18 to share his unique experience during the School's All-School Read program.
Speaking to a full audience of students and faculty in Allen Theater on Monday afternoon, Forsthoefel recalled several stories from his journey to places like Selma, Alabama, and the Navajo Nation in Arizona, saying listening often begins with an uncomfortable question.
"What I began realizing as I was walking and listening to people is that listening has the potential to be a gateway into a totally different world," Forsthoefel said. "A world of devotion, a world where FOMO (fear of missing out) doesn't exist."
Forsthoefel's voyage began shortly after he finished college in 2011. He decided to leave his home outside Philadelphia, he said, in search of guidance and direction.
"It sounds so simple, or almost silly, listening," he added, "When I'm listening, there is nothing else but you who I am listening to, no where else to be, nothing more important than this moment."
Earlier on Monday, in an effort to incorporate an experiential component to this year's All-School Read program, students were asked to embark on their own walking and listening journey on campus. Given journals to record their thoughts, Forsthoefel asked students to reflect on a personal question they had been thinking about but possibly had not shared with others. Students then spent time after classes reflecting on their question, either in conversation with others or on their own. They were encouraged to record their thoughts and experiences in their journals, and then discussed the process in advisory groups the next morning.
"It was wonderful to see students and faculty out on the trails behind Berkshire Hall, others in small groups in Buck Valley and across campus, each absorbed in the connective power of listening," said Head of School Pieter Mulder. "We're grateful to Andrew Forsthoefel for giving us permission to slow down and reflect, and to authentically engage with others around us, a powerful step toward building our strongest sense of community."
Click here to watch author Andrew Forsthoefel's talk.