Commentary: Lend an ear on National Listening Day

The Rock Hill HeraldNovember 26, 2010 

One way to make a newspaperman wince is to request publicity for a day of observance. Hardly a day goes by when someone isn't promoting a day or week dedicated to, say, the fight against cancer or the importance of eating more blueberries.

So when my younger daughter requested a column in support of National Listening Day, my initial reaction was lukewarm. When I learned that the third annual event would take place Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I was even more dubious. Every real American knows that's the day we rush, lemming-like, to the nearest mall. What was she thinking?

The more I thought about it, however, the merits of a designating a day for listening during Thanksgiving made sense. Despite the best efforts of supermarket chains and greeting card companies, Thanksgiving remains largely unsullied by commercialization. And with the possible exception of Christmas, it's the holiday most associated with family.

First some background: National Listening Day is the creation of StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization that provides people the opportunity to record and share the stories of their lives. It's best known for the sometimes humorous, often gripping interviews that National Public Radio airs on "Morning Edition" each Friday.

StoryCorps is the brainchild of Dave Isay. A former radio documentary reporter, Isay believes passionately that the story of America is best told not by politicians or talking heads who fill the airways with their ego-centric ranting - but by ordinary people speaking to someone who cares about them. The art of listening, he maintains, can be mastered by anyone and has the potential to enrich our lives, both as individuals and as a nation.

I first became familiar with StoryCorps several years ago while visiting our daughter in New York City. She took my wife and me to Foley Square, where StoryCorps maintains a permanent booth. She interviewed us for 40 minutes, asking such questions as how we met, what we remembered about our childhoods and what she and her older sister were like as children. At the end of the interview, we were handed a CD of the interview and, with our permission, a copy was sent to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, where it's preserved for posterity along with more than 30,000 similar interviews.

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