Monday, June 13, 2011

The Secret To Learning Others' Stories

I love to hear people’s stories.  If I could do anything right now I think I would sit down with people from all different backgrounds, listen to their stories, then write about them. 

Every person has a story.  Everyone. 

The cashier at the grocery store…the man sitting across from you on the subway…the homeless woman at the corner…the wealthy businessman who won’t give you the time of day.  The famous…the infamous…the unknown.  They each have a story.    

Some filled with pain, some filled with joy, most with a certain amount of both. 

And one thing that I know for sure is that almost everyone wants to share their story.  Everyone wants to be known…everyone wants to be heard.  Some share their story with the world, some with only a cherished few. 

So how do I get people, sometimes virtual strangers, to tell me their stories?  Well, it’s a pretty big deal…quite a secret.  It takes great talent and finesse.  A skill that requires much practice. 

Re you ready?  Here it is….


Amazing huh? 

I ask.  I ask about their family.  I ask about their job.  I ask why they chose their job.  I ask where they are from.  I ask why they moved where they are now.  I ask.  Just ask.    Usually within 2-3 questions, I get to hear a story.  

Meet Joe. 
Joe and I worked for 2 hours together at an aid station at a charity bicycle ride.  Here’s some of what I learned about Joe…
He has 2 living children, ages 8 and 17.  They live in California with their mom.  He has another daughter that committed suicide last year.  His ex-wife knew that his daughter was in crisis, but she didn’t talk to him about it.  He holds a lot of anger about that.  He works with at-risk teens, and his eyes light up when he talks about them.  (By the way, when someone is telling you their story, and their eyes light up, you’ve hit on their passion.  They’ll talk about that all night if you will listen.  And you will learn more about the person while listening to them talking about their passion any other topic. )  I learned all about Joe’s philosophy of working with troubled kids, as well as his hopes and dreams for the kids he works with.
Joe is a big man with a big heart for kids, and I can now pray for him more specifically because I have heard his heart. 

Meet Gerald.
Gerald sat behind me on an airplane trip to Portland. I didn’t actually talk to Gerald myself.  Gerald was about 90 years old, and he was sitting next to a kid of about 10.  The kid was flying alone, and he and Gerald became fast friends.  Gerald was annoying to most of the passengers in a 5 row radius.  He talked too loud for an airplane and he laughed a lot, with a big guffaw kind of laugh.  But, guess what?  The 10 year old asked him a couple of questions, and what came next was a plethora of stories from a life well-lived, some a bit inappropriate for 10 year old ears, actually.  You know what, though?  These two people who live across the county and 80 years from each other bonded on that airplane.  They heard each other’s hearts.  They connected as only humans can do.  They connected as God intended us to do.  Simply because the boy took the time to ask. 

And that’s the point, right?  Our stories bring us together.  Our stories give us a glimpse into each other’s hearts, passions, dreams, pains, joys, fears.  When we ask someone else, with genuine interest, about their story, we let them know that we care about these things.  We let them know that we want to know them…to hear them.  And we are blessed.  We are blessed in an intangible way…a spiritual way.  We can’t put it into words, but it changes us for the better.  

So here’s my challenge to you.  Just ASK.


  1. Love it. Don't you wonder if counselors and therapists would have fewer clients if we asked others to share their stories more often, and then really listened? I'm sure there would be much less loneliness in this old world, too. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Sam, you are SUCH the bratty little brother that I never had! And I love you for it!

  3. Great post Kim.

    It's not as easy as you make it out to be though :) I need to be able to ask the right questions that drill down to that passion. I don't often know what those questions are.

    There's an art to the interview and capturing stories. We could use some lessons.

  4. Hi Mitch! Thanks for reading and commenting. I'll think about some "lessons" that might help!! Good future post idea!