I like to talk with people.
I'm generally not one to start up a conversation with a stranger, and I don't like to be the loud, overbearing narcissist that rules all of his conversations with his own opinions.
I like to listen and I like to engage.
This does not necessarily make me a good conversationalist. I'm actually awkward and maladroit, but in all honesty, I just want to hear someone else's story.
I've eluded to this in previous posts, discussing the power of someone’s story, but I haven't dedicated more than a paragraph. So, sit down or get cozy with your phone, because I’m going to talk about it. A lot.
Everyone has a story. Some are adventurous, some are low key, some are harrowing and some are just lies. All of them are important.
Most of us assume our story is boring or not worth telling just because we're constantly inundated with everyone else’s Instagram adventures and fast paced lives. We feel shamed by someone’s social post about their latest visit to Japan, or a skydiving adventure they went on over the weekend, while we stayed indoors and watched House of Cards for the third time. This somehow works its way into our subconscious that we never have any adventures, and our life is boring. If we could just be more like Frank Underwood, and squash all those smug adventurers with our political muscles, then we would feel like we had a story worth telling.
We might even be that adventurer that’s racing in triathlons while working our dream job. We still, somehow, look at someone else’s life and wish we had that kind of story to tell.
Some of us have to dig deep to find our story. It rarely ever stares us in the face.
Cancer survivor. Humanitarian. Dolphin trainer. Combat Medic. Batman. These people appear to have a compelling story that’s easy to recognize.
We have no idea how deep their story goes. The joy and the pain that got them to where they are now. The frustration of learning from an experience or just living through it. What happened to them when they were five years old that set off a chain reaction or series of events that got them to where they are now. That’s the meat of the story. That’s where the important details lie.
That is where all of our stories are buried.
I recently befriended two different people, with two very different stories.
The first person I work with on a daily basis. I've been at my job for less than a year and we work in different departments as well as different floors. However, through random break room conversations I got to know this guy, and I got a peek into his life.
A few months ago he asked me if I could film him tell his story, as he usually does so at different universities and would be unable to attend an upcoming event. I immediately said yes. I had never heard his full story before, and here was an opportunity to. No distractions, just me a camera and him.
I scouted a nice little spot by a river and set up an workable composition. We were pressed for time as this had to be shot and edited in 24 hours. The following video is Simon’s story.
I cried twice while filming this and twice more while editing it (once because Premiere kept crashing). As far as a video goes, it’s really simple. I didn't have the time or resources to really spruce it up, but Simon’s story immediately pulls you in.
And it’s because it’s real. It’s visceral. It’s human.
It would have been easy just to continue being Simon’s co-worker. Making small talk while brewing coffee. Maybe grabbing a beer with him and other co-workers or even playing basketball a couple times a month. He would have been my friend, but I never would have known who he really was or what shaped him.
His story is one in a million. It is a story of survival and anguish, but it’s also a story of redemption and love. Simon’s story is important.
The other person I recently met has a completely different story.
They grew up in the Northwest and despite being very successful in their professional life, they still felt like they were lacking. They've endured a significant amount of pain and heartbreak and are in the middle of a road to self discovery.
I may have worded that in a generic fashion, but their story is really just beginning. They decided that they weren't happy with the story their life was turning into, so they decided to re-write it. However, that first half of their life, the minutia more than the major choices, is what has shaped them into who they are today. Perhaps this road of incredible self discovery would not be taking place if it weren't for the series of events and hurt that led them to today.
I don't have a lot of details yet and I'm still learning about them. In doing so, something unexpected has happened. I started learning my own story.
Sure, I know everything about my life. Where I grew up, how my parents raised me, some of my triumphs and many, many failures. This, however, is just the outline. The more I converse with this person, the more they open up, and in doing so, the more I open up.
As I've opened up more and more, I've realized something earth shattering. I’m not as put together as I think I am. I'm actually quite a mess.
But, isn't that where the real story is? In the mess? I've feigned contentment for so long that I forgot that I'm actually not content at all. I need to do more. I have to love more. As much as this realization pancaked me, I decided not to let it be the rest of my story. There’s still something to fight for.
Maybe that’s where your story is right now. You feel beaten down, or pacified. You know you're supposed to live a grander life, be apart of grander things, but your story… your story just doesn't feel good enough.
And it’s because you think nobody cares.
Oh, your parents got divorced when you were a kid? Boo-Hoo. So did half of all American families. Someone picked on you in high school? So what. You hate your job? Welcome to life.
People are dicks. We like to crap on everyone else so our own life doesn’t feel so shitty. Maybe that’s why we only pursue mild contentment and pacification. Maybe that’s why we're all on anti-depressants. Maybe that’s why we feel like escaping from our vanilla stories into a prepackaged laugh-track in a sitcom, or a dense drama so we can smugly judge the characters for being more deplorable than ourselves.
In reality, all forms of media are nothing but escapism. Books, TV, movies, music, social media, whatever. We consume all of it, because we want to live vicariously through someone else. We're desperate to live a different life.
All of it boils down to just feeling as if our story doesn't matter. That we're just boring or normal or worthless.
Your story is the single most important thing you have. It’s your unique identity. It’s what makes you important. It’s what makes your life worth living.
Perhaps you’ll never have your story told. Most of us will never will, but the greatest crime you could commit against yourself would be never opening up to someone else with your story.
Or worse, never listening to someone else’s story.
Do you know why Humans of New York has over 12 million likes on Facebook? Because it’s average, everyday people having their story told. And that makes us feel connected. It makes us feel like someone is actually listening.
Your story is important.
I know I've said that a thousand times already, but it is.
My profession, as some of you know already, is to tell other peoples stories. I love it. I've been doing it for over ten years and there’s nothing I'd rather do. I film people going about their day, recalling a tale from their life, sharing their passions and dreams, their work, a testimonial about a product or event or simply just their personality.
I'm a storyteller.
However, that’s not why I think your story is important. For several years I only did all of this because it was a form of income. You tell me your story, I film it, you pay me, I leave and forget about it. I was arrogant and selfish and I wasn't really listening.
However, something changed in me a few years ago.
I started to listen.
The more I listened, the more I wanted to hear. It became an addiction. I started reading more books, watching more movies, talking in depth to as many people as I could. I started to step out of my closed mindset and put myself into someone else’s shoes. It changed the way I saw people.
Instead of judging everyone around me, I began to empathize with them. I started to understand someone else’s pain and why they hurt. I also started to understand their joy.
In doing this I realized what a selfish asshole I had become. I've had moments of clarity before for different reasons, but this time it was because I actually started to love people. All people. Especially the unloved and the unwanted.
Charlie Chaplin’s legendary speech from The Great Dictator is one of the all time greatest movies scenes ever captured on celluloid. It’s as relevant now as it was then.
You may feel that I've deviated from talking about human stories, but isn't that whole speech the basis for what our story should entail? Shouldn't we all want the love of humanity in our hearts? And shouldn’t we practice that by simply listening to someone’s story?
The simple fact is, no one should be ignored. Humans are precious creatures. We need love. We need companionship. We need someone to listen.
You don't have to agree with everyone and you don't have to be a pacifist. You just need to listen.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” -Aristotle
I could blather on and on about all of this. Maybe someday I'll put it in a book, but for now I want to leave you with this: Even if you don’t think your story is important, I do. And I want to hear it.