“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” Lois Lowry
I have spent the past three years asking my parents questions. I have sat with them, eaten with them, and called them to spend time asking about them and who they are. They have spent their lives dedicated to my well-being and to knowing me, but they are people, with their own hopes, dreams, wishes, and experiences. I have strove to take the time to not just listen but to write down what they have shared with me. I went to lunch with my dad a few weeks ago and we both realized it was the first time we had ever been out together for a meal alone in the entirety of my life. We both were moved to tears. It was such a realization for us. We found ourselves just existing, being, and enjoying the company of one another. I took the time to inquire about my dad, who he was beyond the person I knew and imagined him to be, and who he understood himself to be. His stories of his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood fascinated me to no end. The way he would reminisce. The words that leapt from his lips, and the sparkle in his eye as he was transported back to another time. His laughter, his solace, his pain, his joy, and his love shown through. My father is a masterful storyteller. His attention to detail is pristine. When he tells a story, those on the receiving end are teleported for a time into tantalizing experience. A lifetime of relationships, admonishments, betrayals, hardship, light, love, and most of all - hope flows out of him in ways that leave me in utter awe. This person is my father? That's my dad. How? Who is this awe-inducing embodiment of the quintessential enduring human experience? I am left to ponder, process through, and re-purpose. One question leads him on an adventure into his amazing life in the most literal sense, and what an expedition it is.
I have come to see the importance of recognizing those around me for who they are. Seeing the humanity of those I have deemed as something extraordinarily so makes supernaturality counter-intuitively mundane. There is this humbling gravitas that simultaneously grounds and elevates those around me when I learn something new about them. Everything from asking my parents their favorite colors, songs that play when they think of love, childhood personas, first impressions of each other, sibling relationships, most impactful books, and the list goes on, and on - had made them more real to me. It has made them tangible. I get to touch them. I get to see them as they are. I get to hear them in their own words. I get to learn about all the people they've ever been, and who they continue to aspire to be. Taking them lesson and applying it to others in my life like those who educated me, those who served me, and those who lived near me has made my personal community more vibrant. There is something indescribably potent about asking people about themselves, and giving your full attention to them, their answers, and their stories. The way that people's entire demeanor shifts into this rare mode of pure connectivity leaves me it utter awe. The wonders that people carry with them. The horrors they have endured. The passions that they have, and everything that makes them whole people. It all gets to come out. People have this way of being vulnerably candid when you ask them substantive questions and position yourself as genuinely interested in them. It brings you closer together unlike any other way possible. That transfer of story from giver to receiver is a powerfully personal connection. All it takes in an inquiry.
Changing the conversation with those I have always conversed with in one way can seem challenging but it takes a conscious effort, and a patient persistence. Shifting from transactional to interpersonal relationships requires intentionality. I think of my grad school supervisor who once shared with me feeling overwhelmed as a new father, and him mentioning that in passing changed my entire perspective on him. From then on it was this balance of professional work, with personal care, and friendship that has grown into something out of the ordinary. Reminding myself to ask about people and who they are instead of regarding them as means to an end has made my life, connections, and conversations richer. I feel like I come away refreshed, inspired, and fulfilled more often. It gives me an appreciation for people instead of feeling like a burden or a commodity. Truly awesome people are all around us, if only we take the time to let them put their awesomeness on display. Ask for it. Honor it. Celebrate it. People crave connection, and we can/should be the conduits for them to get it. Connection, deeper connections, livelier connections, real connections with feeling, honesty, and vivaciousness. We are capable of them. Seek them out and hold on to them. People want us to inquire, just like we hope people take enough interest in us to do the same - reciprocate. X
How to Inquire:
Listen to understand, not to respond. Ask questions and listen for the answer. Ask prompting questions and others to clarify. Ask people to say more or to explain. Ask follow-up questions. Keep track of your body language, remain open, and authentically interested. Refrain from telling a similar story to relate - keep the focus on them. Validate their experiences. Thank them for sharing with you, what you learned, and how experiencing their story has impacted you. Do it again, and again.
Some Questions to Ask Someone You Already Knew:
- What is the most impactful gift you have ever received, and why?
- Describe where you grew up
- What is a life lesson you've learned, and taken to heart?
- Who do you know yourself to be?
- How have you changed as person over your lifetime?
- What experience(s) have defined you as a person?
- When are you most at peace?
- Why are you the way you are?
- Favorites: Movie, Song, Book, Color, Animal, Childhood Memory etc.