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Listening “ A Gift We Don’t Use Often Enough

Editor’s note: The National Day of Listening was started by StoryCorps in 2008. Click here for more about the day, and here for a feature on StoryCorps.
The day after Thanksgiving is not only Black Friday, it is also NationalDayofListening. Here is one day when we are all encouraged to listen to each other. It is really a day to listen to family stories.

As a boy, I heard wonderful family stories that I let slip by. I didn’t realize what a gift I was being offered. Oh, how I wish I had listened more closely.

Family reunions, wakes and Sunday afternoon visits were rich with stories from past generations. Church socials provided even more opportunities to gain insights.

We spent Saturday nights at my grandparents’ house. They invited in some of the neighbors, listening to the radio while the children played nearby. The old stories were rich and punctuated with uproarious laughter.

My grandfather Gossett’s laugh was contagious. It was a Santa Claus laugh, and his personality matched his laugh. He was generous to the core.

I was raised on stories. I loved the illustrations in the Sunday morning sermons. I have enough preacher stories to last for at least one more lifetime.

Add to all of these the stories, illustrations and riddles from Royal Ambassador meetings, and I might last until Gabriel sends for me another century from now.

We Christians have inherited a wonderful oral tradition from our Jewish friends – and more than a few pagans. The Bible is the world’s greatest story book.

No, I am not downgrading the Bible; Jesus was the greatest storyteller of all time. How do I know that? Because we not only still tell his stories 2,000 years later, we are still arguing about what some of them mean.

We are still wondering about what he wrote when he knelt down and wrote in the sand. And one person told me there are 500 interpretations of the Prodigal Son parable.

When I was in elementary school, I went to a summer camp owned by radio and TV evangelist J. Harold Smith. I remember his stories about womanizing before I had a clue what he was talking about. But that didn’t stop me from asking my boyhood pastor, Roy Gowan, when he was going to tell us his story.

I remember his answer: “Mitchell, I thank God every day that he saved me from that kind of life.”

Never assume that people don’t hear or remember what you say. Don’t ever underestimate your influence. Preacher Gowan, as we called him then, is still a towering influence in my life.

“Listen!” Charles Stanley repeatedly pleads with his congregation to listen. Why? He knows most of them are doing something else.

This is no knock on Stanley. The disciples didn’t listen to Jesus, and as good as Stanley is at storytelling, Jesus has him beat hands down.

Robert Schuller can weave a great story. He can make you see, taste and feel the elements of his stories. He can make you believe you are on a journey with him.

Arthur Caliandro can take a simple story of people standing in line at an ATM and fill it with such meaning and depth that you are spellbound.

And Molly Marshall is a magician with words. She has the ability to take a complex idea and unwrap it right in front of you.

All of these great storytellers are nothing without listeners. If there is no one home when they are talking, the story is lost.

Jesus got right to the point when he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What Jesus really said is, “Listen up. Pay attention. What I am telling you is important.”

The NationalDayofListening is a wonderful opportunity to listen to the stories of family and friends.

A few years ago, my Aunt Lala was in an assisted living facility, and I took my voice recorder when I visited her.

I asked her some family questions, and I was thrilled when she exclaimed, “Oh, I can tell you that.”

She was the last family member who could have answered those questions. The next week she fell and never recovered. She left me with a treasure beyond monetary value.

Our lives are made up of stories, and at some point they intersect because we all belong to the same family. Stay tuned in. Listen.

MitchCarnell is a consultant specializing in interpersonal and organizational communication. He is the author of “Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter!” He and wife Carol are members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C. He blogs at MitchCarnell.com.