Everyone has an important story to tell

Everyone has a story to tell, and, given an opportunity, we all want to tell the important stories of our lives— stories that explain who we are and where we came from, stories that prove we existed and mattered, stories about the people and events that affected our lives. And we can all learn from one another’s stories.

There is no day more appropriate to invite that storytelling than today, which is the 5th anniversary of the “National Day of Listening.”

“On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a loved one,” the web site of the National Day of Listening recommends.

“You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as computers, iPhones, and tape recorders, along with StoryCorps’ free Do It-Yourself Instruction Guide.”

The lesson that everyone has an important story to tell has been reinforced time and again for me as a hospice volunteer who is privileged to videotape hospice patients talking about their lives in conversation with family members.

All that is required of us is to extend the invitation and to listen deeply without interruption to those stories. Once the conversation begins, it’s likely to proceed almost effortlessly, at least in my experience.

Some possible questions include:

  • What elders or events influenced the person you’ve become?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • What advice would you like to pass along to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or others in your life?

There’s no gift more important and precious that human beings can give one another than our undivided attention and genuine interest in the stories we all have to tell. When that attention promotes storytelling across generations, it is a gift that benefits its recipients for decades to come, particularly when those stories are preserved on video or with voice recordings.

What’s on your mind?

• How have stories and storytelling shaped your life?

• To whom would you like to reach out—an elder, a family member or friend, a veteran or active duty military (a special StoryCorps focus this year), a colleague, or a neighbor, for example—to invite his or her storytelling?

[While this post was first published at Thanksgiving 2012, its content is as important and relevant today as it was then. I have updated the links.]

4 Responses to “Everyone has an important story to tell”

  1. 1 Lenore Cohen November 23, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Thank you for sharing what you do and keys to how you begin. I think the beginning part is the most difficult. The one thing you didn’t mention is the building of a relationship with that individual. How does that occur?

    • 2 Dennis Sparks November 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      If it’s hospice patients you’re asking about, Lenore, I get to know them a bit through a meeting of an hour or so which typically includes one or more family members. I provide questions that might be asked, and we make decisions about the best process to use for videotaping. When we do the videotaping, which takes place on another day, family members usually engage the patient in conversation, and for the most part I am an observer. In general, I have found that most people enjoy telling their stories. That includes family members and friends, individuals we may know only casually, and even strangers. Not everyone, of course, but most people have stories they would like to tell you. Sometimes, though, the people we are closest with are the most reluctant—parents come to mind. We want them to tell us about their lives, but for whatever reasons they aren’t prepared to do so. In my experience, trying to force the experience with reluctant family members or others is counterproductive.

  2. 3 Ann Delehant November 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    I am also excited about the prospect of doing this. For me, it’s about getting the technology right. I think this will be fun with my 90 year old mom.

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