National Day of Listening

  1. For some years now, National Public Radio has promoted Thanksgiving as a “National Day of Listening, and indeed, it is the perfect time to sit down and listen to an older relative and understand their life experiences. With digital technology, its even easier to record these conversations by just using your cell phone. Most cell phones have the ability to record voice.

    Here are some tips for making a great listening experience:

    1. Keep the time limited. Say, 30 minutes. This will keep things on track and if you are doing this in the mds of a larger family gathering, will encourage others to respect your time.

    2. Prepare in advance. Have ten or so questions ready to ask. Every conversation can take unexpected detours. This is great. but a little preparation will get you back on tract as well.

    3. Ask open ended questions, because they encourage explanation and detail. So, for example, instead of asking “Did you and grandpa meet in church?,” ask, how did you and grandpa meet? Or, tell me how you met grandpa and what did you like about him?

    4. Don’t worry about dates as much as experiences. An interview is not a genealogical exercise and people will often get flustered trying to remember the year something happened, but they will vividly remember the details. The dates can be nailed down later if they are important.

    5. Know a little basic history. The Great Depression went from 1920 to 1938. World War Two started in 1939, but the US entered that war on December 7, 1941. Kennedy was assasinated on November 22, 1964. the Korean War was from 1950 to 1953. The Vietnam War was from 1964 to 1973, but the most intense part of that war was from 1965 to 1970. If you know, for example that your loved one fought in Vietnam, you can easily google the term and read up on it before your interview, and it might help with follow up questions.

    6. Have fun. This experience is not a test of you or the person you are interviewing. You will be surprised at how great it turns out to be. Whether talking to a friend or family member, you both will walk away valuing your time together, and knowing that you are doing good.

Daniel Smith