Listening Is an Act of Love–StoryCorps & On Being

“Dan Rather once interviewed  Mother Theresa and asked her what she says when she prays to God, and she said she listens. And when he asked her what God says back, she said he listens.”

Dave Isay tells Krista Tippet, On Being April 17, 2014


storycorps_logo_10_yearsI didn’t know that StoryCorps and Facebook began the same year. That’s what I learned while soaking in the tub this morning and listening to one of my favorite radio programs–On Being, also born in 2003.

My ritual is to take my computer into the steamy room, set it on the toilet, and play the 60-90 minute long conversations Krista Tippett shares with her guest. “On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?” says the website.

KristaTippetQuoteSome of my favorite past programs include conversations with Desmund Tutu, Parker Palmer, Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, and Thich Naht Hanh–and lots of others poets, writers, theologians and scientists.

This most recent show features Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps. He was 21 and planning to begin medical school when sidetracked into a different life. He stumbled into story as central to well-being.

Yet he comes from a family of listeners, you might say–and students of the human condition: He had planned to join a long line of psychiatrists, and his grandma wrote the advice column–for 50 years–at The New York Post.

StoryCorps began with the idea that everyone has an important story to tell, and for more than ten years, this project has been collecting the stories of everyday Americans and preserving them for future generations–in The Library of Congress.

David Isaya

In New York City and in mobile recording booths traveling the country–from small towns to big cities and everywhere in between–StoryCorps is collecting memories of men and women of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life.

And, as important as listening is, Dave says, “I am also a terrible listener.”

“Would your kids say that?” Krista asks.

“No–but my wife would!” he laughs.

Listening is hard work, but it’s nourishing rather than depleting, he says. “People know when we’re really listening to them–in contrast to so much in our world that chips away at our lives all the time.”

By creating structure, a booth–a way to set up and talk with another human being for 40 minutes–StoryCorps helps to give people courage, Dave says.

“We focus so much on what a few people have to say, and we’d be so much better off as a country if we listened to more people.”

OnBeingLogoFor me, listening to Krista Tippet interview Dave Isay was energizing. It reminded me of years ago when my friend Julie and I would listen to Terry Gross interviewing a writer or actor or politician on her NPR program Fresh Air.

“She’s got the best job in the world,” we agreed. She asked good questions that invited people to share their lives–and there are so many ways to invite people into conversation.

The voice is sacred, and the importance of listening is often forgotten in a culture where most of us carry our smart phones, read texts and answer phone calls while visiting with friends or walking children to the bus stop.

I remind myself to not blame technology:  I choose how to use it! When I’m with someone, I try to be with that person, but  I sometimes fail. I did it twice over the weekend while out: “Oh–that call might be important!” I thought and I answered it. But I had to call back later anyway, and now I wasn’t giving good attention to anyone! It really could have waited. I broke the flow of a precious live conversation.

You don’t need to take a bath to tune in to one of Krista Tippett’s conversations, and you don’t need to wait for your local NPR station to air it either: go to You might be amazed by the variety!

Happy Spring–and be well!


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