We are made to believe that megaphones are raised up to the voices worth hearing; for many, there is a blissful ignorance of experiences unshared. But we change this by looking to those around us with curiosity, and creating a place for them to share their own stories.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed my grandparents on their 65th wedding anniversary. This is a new phase of life for them - having just moved into an assisted living apartment - and it was the first oral history we’d recorded together. I had a chance to ask what they most appreciated about each other, their first impressions of their spouse, and what they’d learned after 65 years of partnership that they didn’t know at the start. Big stuff.
Every story and reflection they shared was significant - and most of it was unknown to me. It was only in asking these questions that I learned that my grandfather had hitchhiked 20 hours overnight on the eve of his wedding to make it to the Kansas altar in time, best man in tow. Hearing this, I had to reimagine my grandfather from all I’d known before: retired USMC colonel, Rotary Club member, tacit gardener of succulents. Even in a small way, it disrupted my assumptions about him.
This served as my reminder that every person - no matter how new or familiar - has a story to share: shocking, comforting, inspiring as it may be.
We can’t learn if we don’t ask. This is the active citizens lens -- to approach your community as a mutual learning space.
Can you build in half an hour on a fall alternative break to talk with community members, or to interview the Executive Director of your community partner organization? We can learn so much from one another even by opening these small windows.
Asking - and then listening - is a radical act.