quill pen writing on paper - listening and telling stories

Who’s in the room, Listening, and Telling stories

Telling stories and listening. When you take away everything else, that is what we are doing in our lives. Our moments are made up of telling our stories and listening to the stories of the people around us. The listening component isn't always equal with the telling of our own stories. We don’t have to continue this way though. We have the option to listen more, share the moments that matter, and encourage the people we love to do the same.

Starting the work

Have you noticed the elder care industry and genealogy communities are largely white? At least they were for me until I made the conscious decision to seek out non-white members of these communities. I started with simple research and found large gaps in how I curate resources for Legacy. I also found there are challenges in the genealogy world for non-white ancestor seekers… 

  • Accurate records are harder to obtain and sometimes were never kept at all. 
  • DNA tests aren't as accurate or developed.
  • Names were erased or changed so dramatically that it is impossible to tie into off continent relations.

Just to name a few. While some of the above can’t be changed, I know there are things the industry can do to be more inclusive and proactive about providing better resources for history seekers. One way to start is looking at who's in the room which is where ever you are showing up.

Who's in the room

The other day I used the phrase “growth doesn't happen in a vacuum”. This is true no matter who you are, where you live, or what your ancestral history is. Since you are reading this, you are probably already on the listening train. My current challenge to myself is to work harder to be in rooms where there are more voices of a human experience that looks and feels different than mine.

When I was going into care facilities here in Western PA, USA, I knew I was doing a good thing. It was time and energy well spent for the students, residents, and staff. Every now and again I would look around the room and it would hit me that, usually, there wasn't one person who wasn't white. I have a lot of theories on why this is the case, I won't detail that here. The take-home for me was that I needed to work harder to be in more communities beyond those in my backyard.

We can't always control who's in the room. I get that. Awareness is the first step, followed by intentional steps to broaden your worldview and listening to more stories. 

Listening & Telling Stories

We have all kinds of stories coming into our lives every day. Listening to each and everyone with the intention of remembering every word isn’t feasible. I like to remember how I felt listening to the story and what I could examine in my own life after hearing it. Because growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum, listening to outside experiences is how we move forward in our own human experience. My greatest growth comes from hearing a story and looking at my life with an enhanced lens and perception.

Not hearing enough stories? No problem, you can start the conversation and prompt a storytelling moment. Most people love talking about themselves, especially if they get a genuine ask to share. Use the starter topics below to kick things off.

In my experience, sometimes the hardest thing to do is get the conversation started. Once you do that, you are off and rolling. Search the website using “conversation starters” or “prompts” to get more ideas and see #allthethings. The key in all of this is to stick around and listen after you have started the conversation. 

Listening as a Practice

Asking someone to share about themselves and then not listening is the worst. I know you wouldn’t intentionally do that, but it happens more than you think. It’s probably happened to you. Listening is how we show we care and let the other person know their experience matters. We honor their existence when we show up and listen.

Intentional listening takes practice, lots of practice. I don’t have it all figured out either. I practice as often as I can with my kids, my spouse, family, and friends. You don’t need to wait for the perfect time or place to practice listening. Your future storytellers will thank you for the energy you put into your listening practice today.