StoryCorps founder David Isay on the importance of human connection

StoryCorps' David Isay at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
StoryCorps founder David Isay at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival sharing 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.

More than 400,000 people have recorded their stories for radio and the Library of Congress via StoryCorps. Isay said 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.

David Isay said StoryCorps is intended to preserve and share humanity's stories — to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

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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, 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."

The 2020 Aspen Ideas Festival in June has been canceled, along with so many other events. But we'll continue to bring you some of the highlights from past Aspen Ideas Festivals on MPR News Presents.

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