When I was a teenager my dad set a tape recorder on top of the bar in my grandparents’ basement bar (remember when homes built in the 1950s and 1960s often had basement bars? Ah the good old days…).

He pushed record and interviewed his father – my grandfather – for about a half hour. Then he flipped the tape over and interviewed my grandmother.

They told stories I had mostly heard before but I found it compelling to watch this dialogue in a formal interview format.

It was even more interesting when my father had to hit pause because my grandfather started crying when he talked about how much his wedding day meant to him.

StoryCorps is an organization dedicated to helping people conduct interviews like these. The interviews last 40 minutes and StoryCorps keeps a copy for history and the participants get a copy.

I’m reading their book Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project right now, which is a collection of some of these stories. Each story is only a few pages and are interviews between husbands and wives, siblings, adopted child and biological parent, friends, etc.

StoryCorps believes that everyone has a story to tell and provides a list of their most popular questions. You could use these questions on your own to interview someone…or just use them to reflect on your own life:

* What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?

* Who was the most important person in your life?

* Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did this person teach you?

* Who has been the kindest to you in your life?

* What are the most important lessons you’ve learned?

* What is your earliest memory?

* What is your favorite memory of me?

* If you could hold on to one memory from your life for eternity, what would that be?

* Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to me?

* What are you proudest of in your life?

* How would you lie to be remembered?

* Do you have any regrets?

* What does your future hold?

* Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?

* Is there something about me that you’ve always wanted to know but have never asked?

* Turn the tables: This is your chance to tell the person you’re interviewing what you’ve learned from him or her and what that person means to you.

I confess I feel tired reading that list, as I’ve kind of had question fatigue the past several years, what with young children asking me questions all the time, having to ask clients questions for projects, etc.

But then I recall how eagerly I and my mother read through a diary of my aunt Lois’s, shortly after her death – a diary that asked a bunch of questions like these as well as more mundane ones about her childhood, and how even my mother learned things she never knew before about her sister after reading all her answers.

As Einstein said, the important thing is to not stop asking questions (but don’t tell my 8-year-old he said that :D).


Filed under: Conversation/CommunicationListeningStories/Storytelling


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