“The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.” Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel
I get ridiculously nervous before interviews. If it’s in person, I change my clothes at least 3 times before I leave the house. If I’m cold calling someone, I have a ritual. I sip water. I go over my questions. I clear my throat. For about half an hour. But it’s worth it for the high afterward.
I love it when people cry. (Not because of what I’ve said! I don’t want to hurt anyone.) I love it when I ask a question that gets people talking about things so close to their heart, that it gets caught in their throat. The stuff they don’t often get to talk about in the day-to-day of balancing the missions’ books or watering the church’s plants or watching another family fall apart.
As a teenager I wanted to be a counselor or social worker. I couldn’t think of anything I was as passionate about giving the world (Clean teeth – no. Math skills – no. Leak-proof storage containers in five fabulous colours – no.) than hope. I had visions of opening an inner-city refuge for prostitutes or runaway girls in Philadelphia (from a made-for-church movie). So, unlike a popular opinion of journalists (that we’ll twist your words, push your buttons, and lie through our teeth just to get your story), for me, the story is the excuse. My purpose is to give people a chance to hear the hope, the faithfulness, the richness of their own story in the telling.
I met someone recently who impressed me, and as I thought about it, I realized it was because she was both a good communicator and a good listener. Vulnerable without being needy. Genuine and empathetic. I think I’m a good listener when it comes to interviewees. Not always when it comes to my kids. I’m quick to jump in with advice, correction, and warnings, rather than acknowledging their feelings and concerns. I hope I’m a good listener for my friends, but I don’t know.
I have to be a good listener in my work. I read as much as I can about the person’s interests, prepare a list of questions, and then let them ramble, keeping my ears open for places they’d like to go deeper. Then I take the best of what they give me, and turn it into a story. I love that.
Everyone has a story to tell. Who’s listening?