I promise I had every intention of keeping my blog updated this semester, but I’m afraid I’m about five months behind. Oops! I’m sorry about that.
I’ll try to do my best and write more because I really do enjoy blogging.
I wanted to tell you about this book I’m reading. It’s called “Walking to Listen” by Andrew Forsthoefel. I can’t put it down. I was hooked from the first page. In 2011 Forsthoefel, 23, had just graduated from college and was ready to start his next phase, but he didn’t know how. So, he decided he’d walk and listen. It turned out to be a cross-country quest for guidance, and everyone he met ended up being his guide. Forsthoefel walked from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to Half Moon Bay, California, carrying only a backpack, an audio recorder, his copies of Whitman and Rilke, and a sign that read, “Walking to Listen.”
I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen, And accrue what I hear into myself…and let sounds contribute toward me. — Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass)
I think this should be a required reading for every journalism student before graduation. In just under a year Forsthoefel records 85 hours of interviews and life stories while walking 4,000 miles across the United States. He faces fear, loneliness, doubt but also encounters incredible kindness from strangers and thousands share their stories with him. He discovers the answers to some of life’s hardest questions just might be in listening itself.
When your job as a journalist balances on how well you talk to people, you learn a lot about how to have conversations. I remember one of the first things I hated about journalism was interviewing people. I dreaded talking with them, especially if it was someone I didn’t like. I’m starting to enjoy it now. By no means do I consider myself a professional interviewer. I still get super nervous, but I don’t dread it anymore. The secret to interviewing is listening. What I’ve learned most from the people I have interviewed is that they just want to be heard. That’s all they want. They want someone to care about them. And nothing says we care like showing up, listening and asking intelligent questions.
We’ve all had really great conversations. We know what it’s like. The kind of conversation you walk away feeling engaged and inspired, or where you feel like you’ve made a real connection or you’ve been perfectly understood. It’s taken me a while to learn how to have these conversations, but I’ve found they have the power to helps us all understand who we are and what we want our lives to mean.
In journalism, I talk to people that I like, and I talk to people that I don’t like. I talk to people that I agree with and people I strongly disagree with, but no matter what, I think it’s important to still have a great conversation with them.
In almost every class I’ve had at the journalism school, there has been at least one day where my professor spends an entire lecture on the importance of listening. Listen to what’s being said and listen to what’s not being said. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my professors say it’s the most important skill for a journalist to develop. I’ll never forget Professor Hudson saying to us, “In order to be a good storyteller you must be a good story listener. The Dobby Ears are so important. Listen. Listen. Listen.”
I ask myself all the time why is it so difficult for me to listen? I think partly because when I talk, I’m in control of the conversation. I don’t have to hear anything I’m not interested in or something I don’t agree with. I’m the center of attention. I also think it’s partly because I get distracted when I listen. Did you know the average person talks about 225 words per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute? So, what our minds are doing is filling in those other 275 words. It takes effort and energy to engage and really pay attention to someone. I think Stephen Covey says it brilliantly, “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.”
I’m thankful I go to a school that teaches lifelong skills I will carry with me wherever I go. I also couldn’t have stumbled upon this book at a better time. It’s helping me be a better human and therefore a better journalist.
If you’re looking for your next page turner be sure to give “Walking to Listen” by Andrew Forsthoefel a good read. His determination to understand others is infectious. I’m already thinking of ways I can better my conversations and quality time with people. Warning: after reading it, you might just find yourself going for a long walk to listen.
Thank you for reading!