David Isay —
Listening as an Act of Love

"The soul is contained in the human voice," says David Isay, founder of StoryCorps. He sees the StoryCorps booth — a setting where two people ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask each other — as a sacred space. He shares his wisdom about listening as an act of love, and how eliciting and capturing our stories is a way of insisting that every life matters.

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is the founder of StoryCorps and winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant and 2015 TED Prize. His new StoryCorps book is Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.

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Hi Krista, Thank you so much for this interview. And thank you David for sharing your wisdom and experience. I have been working on something similar to StoryCorp for some time over here in the UK and only recently discovered both of you. I have been a web designer for many years and have found myself at a cross roads. David, remember when you said about finding your calling? Well, I have been looking for a while now for a new path, and the pull to this kind of expression is becoming louder and louder. So thank you both for inspiring me every day with what you do. You have filled me with a fresh sense of excitement for what I may create. I hope to talk with you both some day. Robbie in London, UK

Thank you, Krista, for yet another wonderful interview. On Being has become one of the more important things I 'do' each week, and has opened my life to new ideas, new ways of living in this world as we know it. I'm grateful to people like David Isay who heard the call to create StoryCorp. Through hearing the stories of others I think we find that we are all so much more alike than we imagined.

Dear Krista, Although I loved a lot about this program, I am very disappointed at the short shrift given to David Isay's mother's story. You did refer to her, but not even by name--and it's hard to find information about her on the internet, compared to finding information about Richard Isay. Almost universally, the story of the str8 spouse is unheard in the shadow cast by the high drama of the gay spouse's coming out. Please do a future show that corrects this imbalance. Start with Amity Buxton's "The Other Side of the Closet." Str8 spouses, and children of mixed orientation marriages, are also victims of our society's homophobia. Our lives and worlds of pain should be seen to matter, too. Best, Stephanie

It has been a wonderful story which I decided to share in spanish language on my blog, La Columna de Jesus. I was really touched on how David found out the night that he listened to his dad's interview the words "my sons" instead of "my books", for me it was the biggest lesson on how the art of listening needs to be effectively accomplished.

Your last show was very moving because both of you have come to recognize a dear friend who was right under your noses all along. You connected on the level of the meaning of your lives.
And while listening, this came to me to say to you.
We, human beings, can only do one of two things. We can think and we can listen. Thinking is manipulating what is in the memory. Listening is connecting with life itself. It is the mention of the interview with Mother Theresa, which brought this thought to me. It is possible to speak from listening and this is like sharing the listening. This is what you and David do.
And I realize that what I do in my work is teaching people to listen to themselves, because in themselves they have everything else that there is. If it is anywhere, it is in them. It starts with the external, shallow layer of thoughts and automatic thoughts in the subconscious. But if you do not stop there and go deeper, you can find everyone else, you can find who you really are, and you can go all the way to the infinity of love. It is all in every single one of us. And it s all yours for the listening.

This was one of Krista's best interviews! It felt more like listening in on an intimate conversation, in which the two speakers were keenly connected and totally in sync with each other. I will take away insights on how to really listen, and why sharing stories is priceless.

What a beautiful interview with Dave Isay. My son is completing his PhD this spring but told us several months ago he wouldn't be attending graduation because it conflicted with a friend's wedding that was taking place in Italy. It was a difficult moment for his father and I but we knew that he was making the right decision. We then decided that we'd celebrate by attending his oral dissertation (which actually took place last Monday!) but I had a conflict and wasn't able to go. His father and a dear friend traveled to witness and participate in the celebrations that day and I was grateful to be able to view in via my phone. I left it to my son to find a way he and I could commemorate this passage and I was deeply touched when he called a few weeks ago to tell me what he had arranged -- we're meeting in Chicago for him to interview me at the StoryCorps booth in May! After he completed his undergraduate degree, I founded A Place To Turn To a non-profit that supports families throughout the parenting process - because kids don't come with instructions! We provide opportunities for parents to question, learn, explore and integrate what's most important to them into every day life. My son wants to interview me about parenting, our role in getting him to this place in his life, and why I've chosen to devote my time and resources to helping other parents along the way. Of course, I was deeply touched and I have been looking forward to our time together -- so when I heard today's interview -- the tears already began to flow! I will assume there are tissues available in the sound booth -- but will be bringing my own, just in case! Thank you, Dave Isay for your work that has and continues to touch so many lives in such profound ways.

To Krista Tippett - of course, thanks for the program and the wonderful interview with David Isay - To Jan Cloninger - THANK YOU for what you wrote on the comment page of Krista's conversation with David Isay - congratulations to your son as well. I'm interested in your organization A Place to Turn To - I teach teachers how to use technology. I agree that, "...kids don't come with instructions!" - thanks again.

Thank you for this show, as it was a wake up call for me. For most of my life I've been told that I'm a good listener. Lately I've been at the point that if I got that feedback one more time I'd scream. Thank you both for the reminder of the gift of listening. If I am known as that, I want to live into it. I want to provide that for others as they call me to be that for them. Now that I reflect on my life lately, I haven't been as happy and grounded as I know myself to be. Perhaps, avoiding being a listener, as I've done lately, has cost me experiencing joy in life. Hmm. Thanks for listening as I work this out ;-)

Hi Lisa, and anyone else moved by the call to deeply listen,

I have become a facilitator bearing witness as Isay talks about by training to be a facilitative mediator. I now work for the community nonprofit that trained me, though I get as much fulfillment carrying those skills with me in my personal relationships and random encounters. Many community conflict resolution centers like the one I work for exist throughout the country, and are able to be Listeners for their communities because the people they train choose to stay on and volunteer their skills to the center's programs. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a sweet way to convert your natural skills into an invaluable community good. If that is of interest to you, you can find a center near you at www.nafcm.org, and ask about their training programs.

As I have pursued this work over the years, I have come to realize that this kind of Listening (and the curiosity it requires) is essential to hold hope for the future -- to get us beyond the current cultural emphasis on intolerance, polarization, broadcasting our views vs exploring others'...

Please, anyone who is moved by this interview: practice listening, as Tippett says -- it is a gift we all need.

The Story Corps came to our home town. I scheduled time with my husband and was looking forward to sharing our love story. In early January a week before our special date, my sister's medical condition changed significantly and I left town to care for her. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to be her caregiver over a 3 month period and we were able to bring her back home where she died on April 7, 2014. The wonderful gift I received was the circle of amazing friends that I shared space with over those months. I had the opportunity to meet her friends and receive the gift of love from them. Someday I will visit the Story Corp. Until then I lived that intimate space and for that I give thanks.

There is so much truth in "Listening is an act of love." Perhaps that is why I feel such an abundance of love. So many of my friends are amazing listeners.

Thanks, Dave and Krista, for a wonderful show.

Krista - check out Dr. Rick Bommelje's research on Listening Leaders.....another inspiration in how listening is as important as talking...

I think it's more interesting when you enter your soul through the stories you tell. Through changing views and documented recordings, it seems that we interview the image of someone one that we have in our hearts, because once again we allow people to conversate into our own being. David, after many years if finding a passion can document more than someone who is just starting or doing something remarkable, but capturing the passion within. Based on the themes, we grow as individuals, but also in remember acne of those who we have listened and learned. W are all under the human condition, we are all harbors of our own stories. We relate to those who we look up to. David is someone who gives more than just the reason of secrets between the people we were what we thought were larger, but each story is a new piece to our puzzle.

Katrina K

Hi Krista, I had to work on Easter Sunday (officiating at a wedding!) and couldn't go to AM worship. I also had only one brief Easter podcast on my ipod to cover my 3 hours in the car. I listen to NPR all the time, but FM, so I didn't think of your show, but I stumbled upon it. Your interview with Dave Isay easily made up for missing church that day. I loved both of your honesty and your insights on listening. I loved (and grabbed) the Bonhoeffer quote, make a note of what Mother Theresa said about listening, and made a plan to check out any books that you or Dave might have authored. I don't say this lightly: You truly ministered to my soul, and made for a very special start to my Easter day. (I kept expecting you to mention Henri Nouwen - on listening - but I'm sure it was just for lack to time. The show reminded me of him on the topic of loving listening and the need that the average person needs to be really heard, and loved that way. Listening, solitude, silence - it could be so many shows. (Which reminds me, I'm going looking for your podcast right now!) Thanks so much. Bill

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” - Maya Angelou

Thank you for this wonderful interview with David. My late Dad's priorities were shifted drastically after his second battle with cancer. During that time he started saying I love you! frequently, and as a result it has become part of the style of most of his children and grandchildren. Blessings!

Talking about listening, I was wondering if you have ever done an interview on the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) , a Quaker initiated project which started initially in prisons. Listening is a key peacemaking tool in AVP.

Dear Krista,

Thank you, again, for another wonderful opportunity to "eavesdrop" on your amazing conversations, this time with David Isay. The conversations flow so naturally through intimate pathways and sensitive nuances. The conversations you evoke and distill on your show are sacred listening time for me, made more sacred now thanks to David's perspective that the soul is contained in the voice.

Thank you for allowing these vessels of listening, for being the sacred container, for offering us the opportunity to sip from the chalice of listening of so many wonderful souls. Your programs are part of my Sunday Soul practice and my go-to place for when I seek inspiration and awarenesses. I always find it here with you and Trent, and crew. Excellent work! Thank you!!!

Great interview! Thank you for bringing the personal side of Dave Isay to so many people. He is SUCH a VERY special person who is changing lives one person at a time. He is a genuine, true friend and I am so blessed to call him my friend.

I loved this interview. On Being is such a special program -- thank you for the beautiful work you do.

Question: I would love to be able to hear that original radio segment David talks about that he did for WBAI. Is it available anywhere? I'm not finding it easily via Google.
thank you!

Another fabulous interview Krista, thanks so much. I LOVE StoryCorps. Wonderful stories/interviews from Dave Isay. Stories or 'ordinary people' are more interesting to me than all of the hullabaloo about Hollywood stars. Just like people on HONY, the average person, when approached with respect and compassion, will open up and so much honest raw emotion flows . . . it is beautiful. We are so blessed to have people like you and Dave documenting these stories with sound. Makes me want to do this with my 80+ year-old mom.

you are beautifull ,your gentle nature in an often harsh world is a delight to me.thank you for being you Krista.

Many people have conversational scripts or agendas that they fall back on, even with people they know well. Has David Isay ever had to discard a StoryCorps interview because a participant never got past spouting rote responses and personal cliches?

I have gone back to Judaism as an adult and I found out it was for me. Just because things didn't work out when you went to Hebrew School as a child does not mean that it is not for you, There are lots of way of being Jewish and you might find out that you just didn't like the version you were taught at oneHebrew School when you were young. Most of us are taught about religion when we are young and never learn about religion as an adult. Most rabbis, I have learned are good listeners. Why don't you listen to people who are doing interesting things Judaism.

When I am totally involve in listening, I forget that I am shy and usually nervous about having something interesting to say.

Does anyone know the source of the information about the Dan Rather/Mother Teresa interview? I've seen it quoted all over the internet, but would like to hear that interview and hear her say these words about listening for myself. Thanks in advance.

This came to mind during the interview...

StoryCORE : I say 'Listen'

Thank you Krista and David for that genuine conversation about listening. Thank you both of you, for revealing the meaning, beauty, and opportunities hidden in everyday life. Your work makes the world a better place to live. I am a great big fan of Story Corps and On Being.

I enjoy your show immensely. Ironically in this particular show involving two people who are supposed to be professional listeners it seemed to me neither of you were actually listening.

As an attorney, the notion that "the soul is contained in the human voice" resonates with me, except I might say instead that the soul is revealed in the human voice. Your show nourishes me every Sunday morning and causes me to reflect on my life and law practice throughout the week.

Krista and David spoke of the importance of listening. Here is testimony to that from Quaker author Douglas Steere (in his "Gleanings: A Random Harvest"): "To 'listen' another's soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another." Thank you, Krista! I count on your show for weekly doses of wisdom and spiritual enrichment.

To understand someone, one must first listen. Krista and David do that all the time and their joint conversation here really drove that point home. Well done. I also reference Rabbi Akiva who said “Silence is a protection for wisdom” (Pirkei Avot 3:17).

Thanks to both Krista and David for an excellent program yesterday. I love the StoryCorp initiative and always make sure to listen (HA!) when one is played on NPR. The power of listening and allowing others to tell their stories is so very vital. Recently, two friends and I did a study of people's Best Boss experience. While we learned a lot about leadership from our study, the most powerful element of our work was the wonderfully energizing and emotional stories people told us about the impact that their best bosses had on their entire lives. And, to no surprise, listening, trust and respect were central tenants in best boss behaviors. I just posted an article my Linked In page about our study and have been overwhelmed with the positive buzz it created. Thanks again to Krista, David and the entire On Being staff for your great work!

I have a dvd that my daughter in law did of my parents for their 65th wedding anniversary. She interviewed my parents, other members of the family, talking about their life, marriage and family. They were married 70 years before they passed away, and we all treasure this keepsake. My daughter in law-who has made documentaries-asked very few questions, and just let the conversations evolve as she listened. I loved your interview of David.

Having come from a repressive household, the son of a Christian minister, I've had nothing short of a visceral response to mention of God or the church since leaving for college (and effectively leaving religion and spirituality) seventeen years ago. The quote you shared by Dietrich Bonhoeffer was truly beautiful however, and brought tears to my eyes despite this mention.

I've since rediscovered spirituality (albeit through a different path), and come to appreciate the power of listening. Whether through observation when in silence, or through genuine listening to another speak, not only is listening a window into the soul, by more importantly it is the key to genuine human connection. Thank you for sharing, and thanks to both Krista and David for your work in building human connection.

I am a therapist. I listen to stories in my office. But that wasn't enough so I started putting my chair out on the street with other therapists last year. Now it's a thing called Sidewalk Talk and several people came up to me on the street and said "you have to check out StoryCorps". So happy to find kindreds. David and Krista, if you are ever in San Fran come out and listen with me. It would be an honor.

Reminded me of a quote of jack London "It is so simple a remedy,merely service.Not one ignoble thought or act is demanded of anyone of all men and woman in the world to make fair the world.The call is for nobility of thinking,nobility of doing.The call is for service,and,such is the wholesomeness of it,he who serves all,best serves himself"

As an Nurse, professor, and therapist for many years...I thought I knew what compassionate listening was. I teach it, I practice it, and I am privy to the responses of many. Today I learned to be a bit more present and how story and a third party impact the triangle of listening...and the inside view of StoryCorps. I feel blessed with this interview. So motivated, I went to spend time with my mother in palliative care. I audio tapped an interview with her ...and perhaps the most important exchange was when I thanked her for being my Mom....Thanks David Isay and Krista!

Sorry to be critical but you blew this interview from the start because you affirmed a point of view that David expressed that was deeply hurtful to anyone who has lost the ability to speak. My mother-in-law lost the ability to speak last winter because of ALS. She did not lose her soul at that time as Isay implied and you affirmed when you led with the "soul is contained in the human voice" and didn't question this.