Aspen Ideas Festival: StoryCorps founder David Isay on the importance of listening

StoryCorps' David Isay at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
StoryCorps' David Isay at the Aspen Ideas Festival talking about what he's learned about America through his organization's work.
Dan Bayer | The Aspen Institute

StoryCorps founder David Isay says it's important to give people a chance to be listened to.

Four hundred thousand people have recorded their stories for radio and the Library of Congress via StoryCorps. Isay says telling the truth about who we are as human beings can help reduce fear of each other and increase hope. He believes in this way, we can recognize the humanity in others.

"Everything I do, and I think all we're doing is telling the truth about who we are as human beings, as Americans — decreasing fear and increasing hope," Isay said.

StoryCorps' mission is to allow for human connection. Nobody tells their story to get rich or famous, they do it out of love and generosity, he said.

"What happens in the StoryCorps booth is it's a safe space to talk about what's important," he said, "and we don't spend a lot of time talking about what's important."

Another part of that mission is getting people who consider themselves very different to talk with each other.

StoryCorps is embarking on a new project to bring together people who don't know each other, or don't agree, tentatively called "One Small Step."

It's not always optimal to "meet in the middle," said poet Elizabeth Alexander, who spoke with Isay at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 27, 2017. But even if it's not easy it could be the first step in bridging some of the gaps in our polarized political environment.

"I don't know what the next step is, it's probably not StoryCorps," Isay said. "But hopefully if we can get the temperature down a little bit somebody else can come in and figure out how to deal with this other stuff."

StoryCorps will be coming to Minnesota in September as part of MPR's 50th anniversary.

Mentioned this hour: The story of Danny and Annie

To listen to the program, click the audio player above.

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