“I’ve learned about the poetry and the wisdom and the grace that can be found in the words of people all around us when we simply take the time to listen.[…] What else have I learned? I’ve learned about the almost unimaginable capacity for the human spirit to forgive. I’ve learned about resilience and I’ve learned about strength. […] And I’ve been reminded countless times of the courage and goodness of people and how the arc of history truly does bend towards justice”
– Dave Isay
This week’s Friday Link Fest theme–the power and potential of stories–was set by my teammate Jenna with her post on Monday about the artistry and potential of storytelling–for learning, for empathy, for social activism, for relevance and self-empowerment. I then received the latest issue of New York Magazine, their fifth annual “Yesteryear Issue,” a collection of vignettes about old New York and delighted in losing myself in stories of a New York I have longed for but never known. Then two TED talks kept repeatedly popping up on my newsfeed, Monica Lewinsky’s talk on the price of shame and StoryCorps founder Dave Isay’s talk where he shares his TED Prize wish:
“that you will help us take everything we’ve learned through StoryCorps and bring it to the world, so that anyone, anywhere can easily record a meaningful interview with another human being, which will then be archived for history.”
I loved the contrast between both talks, one about the risks and dark underside of a digital archive in a culture bent on shaming and public humiliation, the other on the immense potential of the Internet to act as a digital repository of human wisdom, dignity and compassion. Both talks were brilliant and urgent calls for courage, empathy and connection.
In her TED talk, Monica Lewinsky bravely opens up about her experience of being “slut-shamed’ and publicly humiliated in the nascent era of online news and calls for a collective rethink of our contemporary culture of shame and humiliation which enables cyberbullying.
“Public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop. And it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture. The shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy. We need to return to a long held value of compassion; compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit and empathy crisis. Researcher Brené Brown said, and I quote, “shame can’t survive empathy.” Shame cannot survive empathy. I’ve seem some very dark days in my life. It was the compassion and empathy from my family, friends, professionals and sometimes even strangers that saved me. Even empathy from one person can make a difference.
[ … ]
“We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.”
– Monica Lewinsky
“Over the past couple of month, the team at StoryCorps has been working furiously to create an app that will bring StoryCorps out of our booths so that it can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, any time. Remember, StoryCorps has always been two people and a facilitator helping them record their conversation, which is preserved forever. But at this very moment we’re releasing a public beta version of the StoryCorps app. The app is a digital facilitator that walks you through the StoryCorps interview process, helps you pick questions and gives you all the tips you need to record a meaningful StoryCorps interview. And then with one tap, upload it to our archive at the Library of Congress. That’s the easy part–the technology. The real challenge is up to you. To take this tool and figure out how we can use it all across America and around the world.“
This is the key point, echoed in both Lewinsky and Isay’s talk, that technology is just a tool, a tremendously powerful tool, but that its power and potential comes entirely from us, the people that use it. Are we going to create a digital archive of shame and humiliation or a repository of empathy, dignity and human wisdom? The choice is ours and both talks remind us of the very tangible weight and responsibilities inherent in this choice.
“At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring, and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity. And maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important and maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”
How might we start going about nurturing these types of conversations? Isay shares a few excellent ideas:
“Imagine, for example, a national homework assignment, where every high school student studying U.S. history across the country, records an interview with an elder over Thanksgiving so that in one single weekend an entire generation of American lives and experiences are captured. Or imagine, mothers on opposite sides of a conflict somewhere in the world sitting down, not to talk about that conflict, but to find out who they are as people, and in doing so begin to build bonds of trust. Or that someday it becomes a tradition all over the world that people are honored with a StoryCorps interview on their 75th birthday. Or that people in your community go into retirement homes or hospitals or homeless shelters or even prisons armed with this app to honor the people least heard in our society and ask them who they are, what they’ve learned in life and how they want to be remembered. “
My 81 year-old grandfather is flying in from France next week and I absolutely can’t wait to try out the StoryCorps app with him!