Make a Day of Listening

Amidst the backdrop of frenzied Black listeningFriday shoppers, flying credit cards and mall traffic, on November 29, 2013, StoryCorps quietly celebrated the 5th Anniversary of a new holiday: National Day of Listening. On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps.org asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a loved one. You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as computers, cellphones, and tape recorders. They offer a free instruction guide on their website to walk you through, as well as list of possible questions and other interviews that you could listen to for inspiration.

Organizers suggest recording an interview as a priceless alternative to holiday shopping excess. It occurs to me as a gift of time that could pay dividends for generations. Oral histories were once an important way to communicate stories and lessons. I remember multi-generational home movies that gave me a sense of distant relatives, but I’ve realized that I didn’t take the time to ask my grandparents deeper questions and missed things I would now love to know more about. For many families, those home movie canisters are lost. And while we likely shoot more digital video footage, it seems less likely that we watch any of it.

Judith Moyer of DoHistory.org writes, “We all have stories to tell, stories we have lived from the inside out. We give our experiences an order. We organize the memories of our lives into stories. Oral history listens to these stories. Oral history is the systematic collection of living people’s testimony about their own experiences. Historians have finally recognized that the everyday memories of everyday people, not just the rich and famous, have historical importance. If we do not collect and preserve those memories, those stories, then one day they will disappear forever.”

I would love to know more about the happiness and sadness, and the achievements and regrets of my elders. I would love to know more about their favorite trip, favorite color, even their favorite flavor of ice cream. What do they remember about national and international news as they grew up? What were the key messages they’d wish we’d learn? How would they like to be remembered?

Other questions might focus on friends and colleagues, parenting, growing up, school, love and relationships, working, religion, hobbies, military service, serious illnesses and family heritage.

The National Day of Listening has passed this year, but anyone can make time to involve family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and companies to share their stories. Make it a point to gather over the holidays and ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Or organize a neighborhood or community recording party. Run the audio or video recorder. Ask gently and listen. Imagine what you might learn.

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