Telling stories is one of the earliest and most intimate of human traditions. We teach and learn through stories. They captivate us and preserve our customs and cultural experiences.
StoryCorps is modeled after the efforts of the 1930s Works Progress Administration, which recorded oral history interviews across the country. Since its inception in 2003, the organization has recorded more than 60,000 interviews with participants from all 50 states.
In November 2016, StoryCorps plans to increase their library of interviews by encouraging young people to talk to elders in their community through The Great Thanksgiving Listen. It’s a national project that encourages and empowers high school students to record an interview with an elder during the Thanksgiving weekend using the StoryCorps smartphone app.
Using technology as a means to foster more conversation is a welcome concept in a time when it's easy to get distracted by our phones rather than connect with family and friends around us.
The idea for the project came from Isay’s own experience. In a video, he shares how he always loved talking to older people, even when he was a kid. One Thanksgiving he used an old tape recorder to interview his grandparents about their lives.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” Isay said. “But I recorded their voices and stories, and I saw how much they loved being listened to.”
A few years later, they had passed away and though he never found the tape, he said he was happy he had taken the time to ask about their lives and listen to what they had to say.
Telling Your Story
Storytelling has been gaining in popularity in recent years, according to Sari Botton and Eva Tenuto from the TMI Project, a nonprofit organization that fosters connection through true storytelling. One of their recommendations is for storytellers to include the “TMI,” or what they might think is “too much information.” These parts of the story are usually left out because the storyteller feels embarrassed, but in all likelihood, these details are what listeners most want to hear. When we share those vulnerable moments, listeners feel more connected and less alone in their experiences.
Another organization that celebrates storytelling is The Moth, which began on a back porch in Georgia, where founder George Dawes Green spent summer nights swapping tales with a small circle of friends. The porch screen had a hole in it, which let in moths that were attracted to the light, and that’s how the group got their name.
Once Green moved to New York City he first held events in his living room, but the storytelling nights quickly became popular and moved to cafes and clubs throughout the city. Today, The Moth holds events throughout the world and more than 15,000 stories have been told.
The Moth’s format is true stories—told live and without notes—by recognized storytellers and emerging writers and performers. It celebrates the ability of stories to honor both the diversity and commonality of human experience and to satisfy a vital human need for connection.
Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings, writes, "Real conversations (much like a good book, which requires the same investment and rewards with the same intimacy of insight) are among the few ways to invite meaningful ideas into our lives, for we don’t arrive at meaning via sound bites and status updates."
“We can learn so much about the people all around us just by taking the time to have a conversation,” Dave Isay says.
© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies