1 Way to Restore Human Dignity with Engaged Conversations

Restoring human dignity is one of those things that can feel really heavy, as do many of the things I talk about. But in this particular instance, I’m going to frame it in a way that is quite uplifting and wonderful. We can restore human dignity through engaged conversations, otherwise known as storytelling.

Storytelling is the core and crux of all the things. So is restoring human dignity. How we do this is through engaged conversations and storytelling. There are a number of ways to create engaged conversations, whether we’re creating them with family members or people we’ve never met before. How we create those conversations is really indicative of how that person you’re talking to is going to feel when the conversation is over.

This is the video the article is based off of. If you prefer to watch/listen to the content, click the player button and follow along.

Sharing the Stories of Our Lives to Restore Human Dignity

Over the years, I’ve had tons of people share their stories with me. And they know that, at the end of the conversation, they’re going to feel better, regardless of what they’re sharing with me. They know there isn’t going to be any judgment, and I won’t give them advice unless they specifically ask.

Storytelling is the core of restoring human dignity.

Storytelling is the core of how we restore human dignity.

One of the ways I teach university students about restoring human dignity is by compiling the information senior and assisted-living residents share with them into their life story. In the end, they have a book that the resident can pass on to their family, however, they want to use it. This book is used to inform care plans, reconnect with staff, and give the resident a piece of themselves in a very tangible way.

I like to encourage the students I teach to use storytelling to connect with someone else. In that work, they’re deepening relationships and broadening worldviews. They are working to restore that person’s dignity.

The Inspiration of Hope

When we talk about something we’re passionate about, when we share a piece of ourselves with someone else, we generally get a little fired up about it. Suddenly, there are new possibilities, new ways we can do this thing we’ve always wanted to do. Through these conversations, we’re able to remind that person what they were passionate about. That’s really amazing.

Through these conversations, we’re able to remind that person what they were passionate about.

One example of how engaged conversations work is that they restore a piece of the person that might have been lost in the transition into a care facility.  The Legacy storytelling method has a very specific way of extracting the story from someone else. And it focuses on the five W’s: who, what, why, when, and where. When you have a basic conversation from those questions, that’s the beginning of digging into the memory or moment. 

Who, What, Where, When

The first set of questions is the fact part. It’s generally easier for people to start with easy questions. They can talk about the who, what, when, and where and once you get through that part of the conversation, you’ll probably hear some anecdotal things. By then the person is hopefully feeling more comfortable.


Then you move into the emotional part, asking about the feelings they had surrounding the event. These questions show the other person that we care about how they felt then and how they feel now. This goes a long way toward restoring human dignity. 

The Question That Goes Deeper

A question that gets to the heart of the matter is: Why did we pick this moment? This question is to encourage the person to identify why it was so important to them to share it.

Usually, when we ask that question, the next part of the conversation might go off on a tangent and show something a little different. Most likely, it will bring up new parts of the memory and definitely shed light on more information about the person you’re talking with. It will also show some of their values that you can use to inform future conversations.

The “why” question digs in a little bit to what that person is like, what they think about, and how their brain works.

The “why” question digs in a little bit to what that person is like, what they think about, and how their brain works. - restore human dignity

Plus, it underlines that deepening relationship and aids in restoring human dignity.

But there’s one last question I recommend people ask as part of the Legacy storytelling method: What do they want people to remember about this moment? This question will tell you a lot more about the person. It’s about the words they use to answer the question as well as their body language. It gives them a chance to give their opinion or advice, which for most people is almost immediately empowering. They might sit up straighter, smile wider, get serious…but they’re going to have some sort of shift. It’s really cool to see that shift and watch their body language when that happens.

Restore Human Dignity through Conversation

When you have a story time conversation, it works toward restoring human dignity and inspiring hope. And it’ll deepen the relationship you previously had. It helps you connect. And for both participants, it will broaden your worldview.

Plus, you’ll have the opportunity for that back-and-forth conversation that is incredible for partnerships, family relationships, volunteer relationships, and reconnecting with staff.

Learn more about storytelling for those in care. And be sure to follow this blog for more.

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