In my work as a magazine writer, I interview people from all walks of life. We sit down, often in their living rooms or offices or a nearby coffee shop. I pull out my notebook and push record on my phone app, and out flow the stories. The big moments and the small. The times that made someone laugh or changed their lives. The challenges, the triumphs, the failures, I hear it all.
It’s my favorite part of my job.
These stories become part of me. They walk around in my head. They help guide my decisions and orient my inner compass. When my first reaction to a circumstance is to judge or feel anger, I can often bring to mind an actual person whose life reminds me that there are different ways to see the same situation and different ways to respond to it.
Long after my articles have been written and my notes filed away, I find myself thinking: How did she solve her problem? What kept him strong when he was challenged? How did they survive the unthinkable? I refer back to these conversations to help me understand my world.
Over the last few months, I’m finding these strangers’ stories are moving me more than ever. Maybe because my social network has shrunk so dramatically over the past year — I’m not having nearly as many chats at the grocery store or while picking my kids up from various activities. Maybe because I’ve interviewed more people than usual lately. Or maybe because of an internal shift, where I’m understanding that the whole “us” versus “them” mentality is really a made-up source of stress.
Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for them.
These days, I’m finding my new appreciation for others’ stories has begun to influence all my conversations — with family and friends and the few acquaintances I might find myself talking to.
I’m more interested in hearing what’s going on in a friend’s life than I am in trading niceties. I’m more willing to stay long rather than dash off to the next thing.
I guess that’s the point I’m hoping to make: Taking the time to ask about someone’s day, someone’s life, and patiently listening to the answer, can be a reward not only to the speaker but to the hearer as well.
When we receive others’ stories, it makes us wiser and kinder and more able to shake away the divides that have needlessly separated us for so long.
I have often envied people who naturally see the good in everyone they meet. That doesn’t come so easily to me. But I’m realizing that every time I hear someone’s story, I am more able to see her humanity and how the two of us are not so different from each other and how much I have to learn from her lived experience.
So as spring warms our days and vaccines open our lives to others again, here’s my Year of COVID takeaway. Let’s ask sincerely of each other: What’s going on in your life these days? And let’s give ourselves the gift of truly listening to the answers.