When I find myself in a curmudgeonly state, I listen to episodes of StoryCorps. I used to listen to it on NPR’s Morning Edition on the way to work on Fridays, but my car radio doesn’t work anymore. Now I listen via podcast.
I honestly don’t know anything that more predictably awakens my love for humanity than listening to these recordings. All the complexities and quirks of human being are there, and those things are always kind of new and surprising and wonderful.
I started listening to try to improve my skill at writing dialogue. I wanted to listen to a range of “real voices” very quickly. But I fell in love with it. Listening to the experiences of others is a form of loving. It is a form of spiritual practice, one I tend not to value enough in the world of everyday existence.
You can’t listen to many of these and continue to think in exclusively negative terms about people. During this election season, I’ve been desperate enough that I have even gone back into the archives. They are short. Sweet. Highly recommended.
The podcasts are supported by the Fetzer Institute as part of its Campaign for Love and Forgiveness (loveandforgive.org). All the recordings are being saved for the Library of Congress and, if you know someone with an interesting experience to relate, you can arrange to record that story, too.
Listening to people telling their stories helps us all to remember and to really feel why hating or fearing other people is not going to be any kind of solution to anything.
It sounds trite, but when mind and body and spirit are in agreement, it’s a powerful thing, and we have so few opportunities for that sometimes. I could feel the endorphins flood my system. No kidding.
Really paying attention also develops the inclination to do so more often – and with more people, and a wider range of people. Sometimes there are amazing experiences that people have undervalued for years… the woman who would not be deterred from voting, the romance that took decades to come to fruition, the very first jumpshot, the reason why Grampa grins when you say that word. There are stories all around you.
Beliefs and values come from the stories of people’s lives. One thing that everyone could do is to ask! “Have you experienced something that informed your view of this issue?” Maybe if we shared our stories more often, we might start to understand how to negotiate through some of the more difficult issues we face. Maybe if we listened to people who have had different experiences than we have, it might help to heal all the communication pathologies that are so clearly evident today. When you listen, and read, and think about real experiences from different perspectives and places and times, it also makes you a little more impervious to manipulation.
The heart of StoryCorps is the conversation between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary. By helping people to connect, and to talk about the questions that matter, the StoryCorps experience is powerful and sometimes even life-changing.
Our goal is to make that experience accessible to all, and find new ways to inspire people to record and preserve the stories of someone important to them. Everybody’s story matters and every life counts.
Just as powerful is the experience of listening. Whenever people listen to these stories, they hear the courage, the humor, the trials and triumphs of an incredible range of voices.
By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.
-Dave Isay, Founder, StoryCorps
On the home page, there is a subject index for you to pick a topic. Enjoy.