Last week I went to a reading where the readers, some veterans and some civilians, shared stories about healing after war. Quil Lawrence, an award-winning correspondent for NPR News, gave a beautiful opening address. I was photographing the event, but I put down my camera when Quil said something that grabbed me:
"It’s a lie that we can't understand just because we've never been there. And it's not a harmless lie. If we ask, and then listen, we can understand each other."
We can understand each other. If we ask. If we listen.
This is why I believe in storytelling. At StoryCorps, where I used to work, they say that sharing and listening to each other’s stories reminds us of our shared humanity. Through our stories, we see each other. Empathy is born.
Before hearing Quil talk, I hadn't given much thought to the boundaries of storytelling, but I'm sure I believed that it would be very difficult for me to understand a veteran's war experience. I still believe it would be difficult, but there is so much power and hope in the idea that we can bridge that gap if we remember to pause, to ask, and to listen. It's simple and beautiful. The idea that we can understand each other in this way is what inspires me. It's why I believe in storytelling.