GIVE THE GIFT OF STORY-LISTENING
"One of the sincerest forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say."
Bryant H. McGill
The last five or six weeks of the year are jam-packed with holidays. Whether they have secular or religious origins, these celebrations bring cheer to an otherwise gloomy part of the year. Perhaps they are designed to boost our morale and lift our spirits when the weather is cold and the nights are long and dark.
Most of these festive occasions bring together family and friends. Several of them also include traditions of giving gifts. I'd like to suggest a gift that's simple and affordable, yet infinitely valuable. It's something all can give, regardless of age, education, or financial status, and it's a perfectly appropriate present whenever family and friends gather:
My suggestion: this year, give the gift of Story-Listening.
In my work with hundreds of clients, and in writing Like a Library Burning: Sharing and Saving a Lifetime of Stories, (visit our website) I have found that "in millions of ways, large and small, stories matter."
Everyone is full of stories. "To be a person is to have a story to tell," wrote Isak Dinesen. Those stories have an urgent need to be told. Maya Angelou is credited with recognizing that "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
Authors Scott West and Mitch Anthony observed:
We all have a biographical impulse that fuels a parade of stories about ourselves, yet we somehow fail to connect the need to tell our own story to the fact that others harbor the same impulse. While every person's story may not be interesting to others, it is interesting to them, and they want to tell it.
If this is true - and I believe it is - then one of the greatest gifts we can give another is to listen with love and attention to their stories. "Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen." Margaret J. Wheatley
Listening in this way is an act of love, an acknowledgment of the inherent worth of the storyteller and an expression of our affection for them. What a sweet gift to give another!
Good story-listeners are intentional about drawing personal narratives out of others. They find and learn to use a handful of what I call "story-leading questions." These are inquiries that invite the other person to answer with a story. These queries exhibit a warm and welcoming interest in the life of another, and invariably lead to wonderful memories and stories.
You may have some of your own holiday-oriented story-leading questions that work well for you; if not, here are some you might try:
- · From your perspective, how have Thanksgiving gatherings changed over the years?
- · What are some of your favorite memories of Christmas?
- · How was Hanukah celebrated in your family growing up?
- · What was a New Year’s celebration that stands out in your memory?
- · Who is someone who gives very thoughtful gifts? What are some examples you can recall?
- · Do you have some great memories about Santa Clause? When/how did you find out?
- · Some people take holiday trips to interesting places. Have you ever done that?
- · What was the best gift you ever received? That you gave?
This year, give the gift of Story-Listening. Inviting others to share their stories is a welcome and generous gift any time of the year, but will be especially appreciated during the holiday season. It's a small and simple thing, but it will add great joy to their life and yours.