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National Day of Listening Inpires Storytelling

Nov. 30, 2009

National Day of Listening from Storycorps and National Public Radio encourages people to take an hour on the day after Thanksgiving to listen to someone-an elderly relative or neighbor--ask them questions, and allow them to share their story. Listeners are also encouraged to record their subject's story for posterity. Storycorps hopes many of these stories become family heirlooms in the long-term, while encouraging conversation and story-telling immediately. The first National Day of Listening was a success last year, and more are hoping to get on board in 2009. The hope is that the stories of many individuals are not lost.

Lois Myers is the associate director of the Institute for Oral History at Baylor. Interviewing, questioning, and listening are a part of her job, as she and her colleagues seek to preserve the stories of the university, its people, and its region. She knows that, as rewarding and valuable as hearing others' stories can be, many sometimes find it hard to get started. Sometimes, the subjects themselves can be reticent to share.

Aside from open-ended questions, Myers has learned "tricks of the trade" that can lead to a more rewarding experience when hearing others' stories. After that open-ended question, look for ways to go deeper, finding the emotion of an issue.

Even as we focus on the stories being told by a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or friend, it can be helpful to remember that it is called the National Day of Listening. Listening, says Myers is an art and an act that is very valuable and affirming to the speaker. Additionally, says Myers, you can be amazed at how listening and encouraging an elderly subject to think about the past can stimulate their memories and senses far beyond your conversation.

Storycorps and National Public Radio encourage people to record their subjects on the National Day of Listening. Whether on video or audio, it can help the family remember the emotions behind the story, preserving it for future generations. Meyers encourages people, even when they're with their family, to treat these oral history sessions seriously, as they would an appointment. Set aside the time, and don't be distracted.

Says Lois Myers of her experiences with the Baylor Institute for Oral History, you never know where the road might lead you. That's part of the point of National Day of Listening. Surprises on all sides, the dignity of listening, and the chance to create a memory far beyond the time set aside. National Day of Listening will come and go, but Meyers, Storycorps, and those who engage in oral history projects hope families make it a regular part of their experience. For KWBU news, I'm Derek Smith.

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