Tony Curtis died yesterday. He wasn’t one of my favorite actors, but I liked his work in all the movies I saw of his. I was reading the New York Times’ article about his life http://tinyurl.com/38z88h3 and wondered as I was reading, “What questions would I have loved to ask Tony Curtis?” Rather than listing them all, I challenge you to make a list for yourself. And if you don’t care for Tony Curtis, make a list of questions you would like to ask your favorite actor.
The next thing I will ask you to do is ask yourself those same questions. I have found that the most well received questions I ask during a LifeStory interview I conduct are those I would want someone to ask me. Empathy goes a long way when asking a question, especially if it;s about someone’s life. Try it on your loved one the next time you talk. What answers do you expect? Let me know if the answers given were what you expected.
Last Sunday, CBS Sunday Morning aired an interview with Tony Curtis’ daughter, actress Jamie Lee Curtis http://tinyurl.com/2ccr9x3 . I found it, like most on that show, to be a good interview. I’d love to hear her reflections on her Dad now that he’s gone. What was her most touching moment with her father? Ask yourself the same question. Always remember the power of empathy when asking someone else a question.
I hear it all the time. Either from the older generation interviewees themselves or their children telling me, “Dad doesn’t think his life and its stories are important enough to record.” My favorite is from a 92-year-old who told me, “I don’t know why my son wants me to do this. I’m just a simple country boy from Blanket, Texas.” Well, this “simple country boy from Blanket, Texas” was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941! If that weren’t enough, he was also at the fought at Iwo Jima! In addition to that, this same guy built a very successful business starting with nothing! And he doesn’t think his stories are important enough to record? (I’m trying not to get too wound up at this point). I believe there is an easy explanation to this thought process.
Tom Brokow so masterfully wrote in his book The Greatest Generation http://tinyurl.com/2duto9m about his father’s peers, those of the generation who fought in World War II. He clearly mentioned how humble they were. Let’s face it, they (and we) were taught that talking about yourself is bragging…and that’s not a nice thing to do. In addition to that, most of us think of ourselves as “regular people”. To be interviewed, you have to be a celebrity or have to have done something spectacular in the world’s point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Just think of your favorite grandparent (I know, it’s not politically correct to have a favorite, but we all had one). While they were “regular people” in the big scheme of things, how priceless would it be to have a recording of them sharing their favorite LifeStories? And what wouldn’t a grandparent do to give a special gift to their grandchild? A popular homework assignment for third-graders is to take five questions the teacher gives them home to ask their grandparent about their life’s stories. The kids are taught to interview them, write the answers down and then report to the class what they said. This wonderful exercise in communication skills is forgotten and lost as we grow older. I say we all go back to that assignment this week and finish our homework assignment from many years ago!
Parents don’t believe their LifeStories are important, but we do. Let’s honor them by learning from their stories and giving them the opportunity of sharing their lives through their stories. If they resist, ask them if their own grandparents’ stories were important to them. If so, then remind them that they shouldn’t deny their grandkids the joy or hearing their stories many years from now.
Why Steven Spielberg founded The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation http://college.usc.edu/vhi/, the project that captured and preserved the stories of 52,000 Holocaust survivors, may seem obvious. But when he started the project, I’m sure he didn’t foresee the residual, and arguably the most powerful, effect – the identification and connection of an entire culture to future generations. I saw a glimpse of this with the survivors I interviewed for the project here in Texas.
As the survivors poured their hearts out while telling their story, I saw magical things happening. I saw uncorked emotion emit from their words; willingness to share their souls with the world; unintentional connections being made as they spoke, not just to their families, but to humanity at large. And as I continued to marvel at their stories, I realized the power of all of life’s stories. I realized quickly that you don’t have to have survived the Holocaust to make an incredible impact on the life of another person. Who we are is defined by the life stories we tell.
But how are we capturing our stories? How can I let my newfound knowledge of the power of our stories lay at rest with a single project? While the Shoah Foundation and its incredible educational work since the interviews ended are valuable, the life stories of everyday people hold within them life-changing possibilities for the rest of the world. That is why I started LifeStories Alive http://www.lifestoriesalive.com/.