Friday, November 28, 2008

'Tis the Season for Telling Stories. Let the First National Day of Listening Kick-Off Something Besides Football.

Did you know that today (November 28) has more significance than shopping, turkey sandwiches or even the Nebraska/Colorado football game?

It's the first official National Day of Listening. That's right, listening. It's something we all do too little of anyhow but the specific reason that StoryCorps, the nationwide oral history project, has created this special day is to promote personal storytelling, a critically-important part of life that is getting snowed under by television, technology and a pace of life that severely undermines interpersonal relationships.

I'm all for it (along with President Bush and the First Lady) and I urge you to consider joining in the spirit too. "This holiday season, ask the people around you about their lives — it could be your grandmother, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood. By listening to their stories, you will be telling them that they matter and they won’t ever be forgotten. It may be the most meaningful time you spend this year."

I first became aware of the importance of what is called oral history in my undergraduate days but way, way before that I had learned the value of stories. My father was a keen and talented storyteller; so were my uncles and other adults in my life. And in the tales they spun, I learned about life's priorities, practical wisdom, perspective, virtue, dangers, humor, spirituality and more. I learned about history in an "up close and personal" way --and I learned how listening to one another's life stories does wonders for friendships, communication skills, and for building self-esteem and sense of purpose.

One of my most precious possessions today is a 2 1/2 hour interview I did of my Dad not long before he was killed by a drunk driver. Claire and I were in Colorado for a visit and I used an old boom box/tape player to record Dad's answers to my wide-ranging questions about his life. It didn't take much to get Dad to tell stories and I already knew a great deal even about his early life but I had decided to use this interview to probe a little deeper, to possibly learn things I wasn'y aware of.

It was a tremendous success. We sat in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking, comfortable, friendly and very open. Perhaps because we both knew we might not have many chances like this in the future, Dad seemed particularly mellow and pensive. He was very forthcoming, even talking about mistakes he had made and things in his life that had brought pain. Even if I had not recorded these memories of his, the afternoon would have been one of the most important of my life. But the fact that I do still have them (edited and re-recorded onto CDs, copies of which were given to my Mom and siblings) means the world to me.

Listening. It takes time. It takes effort. It even might take a bit of practice as you learn how to do it well.

But it's well worth the investment.

There's plenty to help get you started over at the StoryCorps web site. And, who knows, in a day or two, I might even drop in a portion of my interview with my Dad to spur you on.