The day after Thanksgiving has its own traditions. Leftover day. Get out the Christmas Decorations Day (my house). The ironic Black Friday.
It’s also StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening. Unlike Black Friday, when we’re encouraged to eschew all our thankfulness and contentedness, the National Day of Listening nurtures the feelings of gratitude.
Suggestions for National Day of Listening
For StoryCorps, listening is only the first step of the National Day of Listening. They also encourage participants to record and upload interviews to share with family and friends and StoryCorps followers.
They even have a great questions list to help you break the ice with loved ones. They present some great ideas or you can use ones from this blog. (You may find How to Start an Oral History Tradition particularly helpful.)
It’s a great tradition and it’s inspiring to go to their wall of listening to hear others’ recorded interviews and stories. Of course, I have my own ideas on enhancing the tradition.
Celebrate National Day of Listening a Day Early.
Thanksgiving and National Day of Listening make a great combo. The initiative doesn’t stop at collecting entertaining stories of the past. We’re supposed to sit down with a loved one and bond over a conversation that matters.
Thanksgiving makes an ideal time to do that. We’re at the table—or draped over the couch in a I-can’t-believe-I-ate that much stupor—with ready access to our loved ones and elders. What better time to get the stories rolling? Just set your smart phone to record and start collecting stories.
Even the pre-story banter can be precious jewels for the family history Treasure Chest. For example, last summer my son brought his serious girlfriend to dinner. His grandfather decided to regale her with some of his favorite stories. His introduction was as good as the story itself. “Now the rest of them have heard this story and Joan here,” he said, indicating his bride of 60+ years, “will probably roll her eyes. I don’t care. I like telling this story.”
Collect Stories and Info.
If you need Family History information, there’s nothing wrong with prompting loved ones to include it. Questions such as “Do you remember the name of the town in Germany where your great-grandparents came from?” and “Who did Uncle Clyde marry?” are great. They can help you break through genealogical brick walls.
But, don’t stop there. Ask, “What was she like?” as well. See if you can spark stories that reveal ancestor’s personality and character.
I’m not playing Captain Obvious. The downside to having an agenda when we’re trying to elicit stories and gather information is that we fail to truly listen. We’re thinking of our follow-up questions or making notes of dates. That changes the focus away from the storyteller and impedes our ability to follow the emotions of the narratives. Missing that can deny us the opportunity to have those rare conversations that really matter.
This year, as you listen to loved ones tell stories, immerse yourself in their past. Loosen up on your agenda of what stories you want to collect, and focus on your loved ones. If you hear regret in their voice, ask what they’d do differently. If you hear hurt or bitterness, let compassion and empathy lead the way as your conversation continues.
Honor Story Corp’s Founding Premise
The National Day of Listening is the brainchild of StoryCorps founder David Isay, who is known for saying, “Listening to people reminds them that their lives matter.”
I can’t think of any better way of celebrating Thanksgiving or launching the Christmas/Chanukah season than that.