The Roaring Fork Valley has turned into a giant social experiment and being heard is at the heart of it.
Aspen is defined by a lot of superlatives, but Bob Chapman is introducing a new one. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be known as the most caring community in the world?” he asks. Chapman is the CEO of the Barry-Wehmiller Network, a $3 billion global manufacturing business. It’s this company upon which he launched his people-centric approach to leadership—one he’s testing out beyond the boardroom in the Roaring Fork Valley through Our Community Listens. “Unfortunately, in our society we don’t teach people to listen, which is the greatest act of caring, and is the greatest gift you can give to anyone,” he says.
Our Community Listens is a three-day communication skills workshop offered to any adult in the valley, for free. Since starting in 2012, more than 1,300 people have taken it and organizers have yet to advertise; instead participants sign up based solely on referral from alumni. The class uses a DISC assessment to profile people’s behavioral types and then teaches them verbal and nonverbal skills to communicate with others, from co-workers to spouses, recognizing that different people have different needs when it comes to being heard. “I don’t think you can be caring without the capacity to listen,” says Chapman.
The classes are diverse; one could include the executive director of a nonprofit, a bar manager from Iran, a housekeeper from El Salvador, a newspaper publisher or a city staffer. So far, two-thirds of the Aspen Police and Pitkin County Sheriff’s departments have taken the course, as well as many teachers from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. “It’s helped me a lot to become an active listener,” says Rob Fabrocini, a sergeant who’s been with the Aspen Police Department for 23 years. “Now, I tend not to respond until I get all the information. In police work, that can be an effective tool instead of asking more questions.”
Whereas people in other communities may pay $2,500 for the course, Chapman is using the Roaring Fork Valley—where he and his wife reside most of the time—as a test case for what could be on a larger scale by offering it at no cost. It started in Wisconsin and has expanded to Carbondale and Glenwood Springs and is also offered in parts of Michigan and South Carolina. He dreams big, hoping that everyone in the valley seizes the opportunity. The goal is that there is a noticeable shift in local interactions.
Shara Brice, who is the chapter leader for OCL, reports that almost everyone reviews the class as worthwhile, and some see it as life-changing. As a charismatic and tender organizer, she deserves much of the credit for executing the program in the Roaring Fork Valley. But her humility would prevent her from accepting it. “This transformation does not happen magically, but is the result of intentional practice, toward the goal of improved interpersonal relationships. ... It is a privilege to be part of building a more caring community.”
When surveyed, 97 percent of participants reported that they “strongly agree or agree” that the course equipped them with tools that significantly enhanced their communication with others. Chapman is aiming to put Aspen on the map for altruistic reasons, and with those results, it’s certainly a pitch that deserves a listen.
Aspen has served as a sociological lab before. During the 1970s, Werner Erhard introduced Erhard Seminars Training (est) to a handful of communities across the United States, and Aspen was one along with San Francisco, New York and Honolulu. The 60-hour seminars were courses aimed at personal transformation. They were the precursor to what would eventually become the Landmark Forum, a personal development program still in existence today.
Aspen residents f rom the ‘70s recall est t rainings fondly and with reverence, citing them as pivotal in their self-awareness evolution. Erhard chose Aspen as a location because Aspenite Anne Bayard had been involved with a sister program in San Francisco, and she wanted to introduce it to the valley. Several hundred people took the training in the Aspen area during the early ‘70s.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ASPEN HISTORICAL SOCIETY/ MARY ESHBAUGH HAYES COLLECTION