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This Friday is the Second Annual National Day of Listening. The man behind the Story Corps Project wants to encourage you to set aside one hour this Friday to record a conversation with a loved one. KSMU’s Missy Shelton spoke with David Isay and files this report.
Shelton: David, thanks for joining me to talk about the National Day of Listening. Maybe some of our listeners are intrigued by the idea of recording a loved one’s story but they’re not quite sure how to get started. What advice do you have for them?Isay: My first piece of advice is just do it. You want to do this if you can. It’s easier than you might think. We have simple instructions on our website. The idea is to take an hour out and honor a loved one by asking them about their lives, by listening to their story and recording it. You can use any equipment you have around the house. Find a quiet room and you record. It’s important to find someone whose stories you really want to listen to you. Very often it’s someone who’s been important to you, an angel in your life, relative you’re particularly close to. And then you ask the questions you want to ask. You know, as a journalist, one of the miracles of the microphone is that it gives you license to have conversations you don’t normally get to have. Most people ask big life questions. We think of Story Corps and the Story Corps process as a transmission of wisdom process. The trick is not in the asking of questions but in the listening. You just listen and respond. Look the person you’re interviewing in the eyes and be engaged and miraculous things will happen. One thing I hear from people every day is, “I wish I’d interviewed my grandmother.” “I wish I’d interviewed my uncle, my husband, my father. And I just waited too long.” One thing we hope is that people will do is not wait too long and take this hour out on the National Day of Listening and interview a loved one.”
Shelton: Instead of asking some of the big, life questions, is it ok to ask someone to talk about a particular event in his or her life?Isay: Absolutely. One of the interesting phenomenon of Story Corps is that at the end of the Story Corps interview, when they do it formally, they sign a release to have it go to the Library of Congress or not. And for these National Day of Listening interviews, we don’t have the capacity to take them to the Library of Congress. In the formal, Story Corps process, you sign a release. As you know, such intimate things happen in these interviews and I expected that some percentage would sign the release, and we found that more than 99% of people sign the release, which just speaks to how people want to be heard, want to be listened to. And if someone says they don’t want to talk about something, then you don’t. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. We have questions about every imaginable topic at our website. The trick is to talk about what you really want to talk about.
Shelton: It seems that the experience of participating in Story Corps and the National Day of Listening gives something valuable to people on both sides of the microphone.Isay: For the person who’s being interviewed, Story Corps reminds them they matter and won’t be forgotten. For the person doing the interview, it’s a chance to tell someone who matters to you how much you love them by listening to them. We hear all the time that the 40 minutes they spend in the booth is among the most important 40 minutes of their life. It gives you the chance to say what you have to say. Whether it’s through the National Day of Listening or through Story Corps proper, it’s really a chance to leave a legacy for future generations so your descendents can someday get to know where they came from and who they are.
That was part of my conversation with David Isay, the founder of Story Corps and the National Day of Listening, which is this Friday. For information on the National Day of Listening, go to our website, KSMU.org