When I was seven or eight, I asked my mom, “Do you want to meet everyone in the world?” She looked at me in surprise and said, “No.” Her answer surprised me. I thought everyone wanted to meet everyone else. And I had been feeling anxious, wondering if I had the time to meet everyone. I couldn’t understand her reluctance to get to know everyone, but her answer took the pressure off of me.
Fifty years later, I still haven’t met all 6 billion people on the planet, but I have found others who have this same desire.
For instance, Rob Lawless, a young entrepreneur, is on a mission to meet 10,000 people, one at a time for an hour each. In June of 2016, he started his Robs10kfriends project and in three and a half years has met over 3,500 from over 60 countries and 35 US States.
Obviously, people fascinate Rob just as they fascinate me. Years ago, during one of our In Print writers’ gatherings, a retired woman told me she was writing a novel about a teenager who pilots a plane. For some reason I assumed the writer was a retired schoolteacher, so I asked her, “Do you know how to pilot a plane?” She smiled and said, “I should, I’ve been a flight instructor for the past fifteen years.” Well, at least I got the teacher part right.
But that’s one of the things that fascinates me about people — they surprise me and, more often than not, have terrific stories to tell.
Last year, I read an NPR article about the My Life, My Story: Advancing the Veteran Experience program at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital. According to the article:
Volunteer writers seek out vets . . ., and ask them about their lives. Then they write up this life story, a 1,000-word biography, and go over it with the patient, who can add more details or correct any mistakes. . . . Once the story is finished, it’s entered into the patient’s electronic medical record, so any doctor or nurse working anywhere in the VA system who opens the medical record can read it. . . .
There is research suggesting that when caregivers know their patients better, those patients have improved health outcomes.
Brilliant! The program is headed by Thor Ringler who has interviewed more than 2,000 veterans. Other hospitals around the country are interested in implementing the project and Thor proposes the hospitals hire writers to record the stories. Definitely, something for me to look into!
I’ve always been curious about people, but I haven’t always acted on it. When I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know any professional writers, so I assumed the only way I could make money would be to become a journalist. Luckily, my high school offered a one-semester journalism class, so I took it. I quickly discovered that being a reporter wasn’t for me.
At the time (the late seventies), news articles were much more fact-based rather than opinion-based as they are today. All articles on the front page of the paper answered the questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How in the first paragraph. Being a creative writer, I found this very limiting.
And, of course, I had to approach complete strangers and ask them personal questions. It was nerve-racking for my timid teenage self and felt intrusive to me, icky.
Now I enjoy asking people about themselves. In fact, I can be pretty bold about it. But I do find most people love to tell their stories and more often than not these stories are fascinating. I learn something and, even better, get a chance to meet and connect with one more person in the world.
Wednesday, March 31st at 6:30 p.m. for a Zoom Author Visit through the Waunakee Public Library. I’ll discuss my writing process and my first novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois. More details to follow!
I love the veterans’ stories idea! I’d like to record those histories myself! Great newsletter as usual, Kristin. Hugs!
Thank you! I might do a bit of digging to find out if they’re looking for writers at the VA hospital in Madison. I’ll keep you posted.
I agree that everyone has a story to tell and usually wants to tell it. As a journalist, I learned to ask bold questions. I have found that carries over to meeting people.
Ooo, I’d love to hear some of those bold questions you learned to ask! Did you find it difficult to ask questions the paper wanted you to ask rather than what you were interested in/wanted to ask?
It’s funny, after I read your article, I was thinking to request you write a blog about the questions to ask people to go deeper, quicker. And you are wondering the same thing.
There are those people, I know a few, that can do that, go deeper in just moments at a check out line or being a regular at a coffee shop with just moments at the counter each time. These ‘advanced communicators’ get to know things about strangers that their colleagues might not know. I want to be one of those people.
I think the keys are being in the moment, curiosity, and terrific listening skills. Oh, and a fascination of people. I have the curiosity and find people fascinating, but the difficulty is being in the moment (I blame my phone) and putting aside my agenda to just listen. Once I put away the phone and the agenda and simply ask, I’m always rewarded with a terrific story and, more importantly, a new connection.
I also think, that with a little practice, we can both become advanced communicators.