Get Inspired

Delve Deeper With Family & Friends

A common refrain I hear from the students in my memoir-writing classes is, “I wish I had talked more to my grandparents and parents and asked them more questions.” There’s so much we don’t know about those who came before us, and so much our children and grandchildren don’t know about us!

Many of us are very good now at communicating with our spouses and partners. Through CCC, we’ve been given a lot of tools for this. Extending that ability out into our families shouldn’t be a hardship. By bringing the distinctions of CCC to our family conversations, we can experience more closeness, intimacy and understanding. We can also impart and obtain valuable information about our families and friends and our shared histories.

Mining the memories of relatives and old family friends who are still alive can give us a gateway to our own understanding of how we came to be who we are. We can give history a personal context. How did Grandad survive the Depression or serve our country in World War II? What was it really like to be a diplomat or a diplomat’s spouse? What was it like to work in a foundry, be a WAC, hitchhike through Wales, work on JFK’s campaign? There are so many fascinating stories to discover, share and bring forth!

When approaching family members and others for their stories, it will help to bring along these distinctions:

Couple as Source is a call to be aware of the difference we make and to choose making a positive contribution. Approach people with love.

Generosity: When asking questions, listen with an intention to presence love and connection. Leave judgment outside the door.

Curiosity: Though not a distinction per se, bringing curiosity to a conversation when talking to family members about their pasts will result in both information gathered and connections strengthened.

What do you wish you knew about your elders, present and past? What do you assume your children and friends know about you that they just may not? Even if they have an outline of your experiences, what meaningful details might you fill in? For that matter, how much do you really know about your children—truly know?

Asking good questions is key to getting substantive and interesting answers. Avoid ones with yes and no answers.

• Don’t ask, “did you grow up on a farm?” Ask, “how did farm work differ from season to season?”

• Don’t ask, “Did you like North Carolina State?” Ask, “what was most challenging for you when you went to college? How did you make friends? What scared you? What gave you confidence?”

• Don’t ask, “did you like serving in the military?” Ask, “when in the military, what did you actually do? What were you responsible for? Who were your friends? What did you dislike?”

The old journalistic standbys who, what, where, when, how and why will serve you well in these conversations.

Another fun way to elicit information, especially with your children and friends, is to buy A Game of Storytelling by the producers of The Moth Radio Hour. It provides hundreds of prompts over a wide range of topics, presented in intriguing statements that each begin, “Tell us about a time …” For example, a time you put in the work; learned a lesson the hard way; got there in the nick of time; said yes when you should’ve said no; had to face the music.

Listen with generosity, ask good questions, and mine your loved ones for stories, being generous with your own. You’ll be glad you did.

By Cathy and Dan Smith, Capital Connectors Circle

Go to Newsletter Archive >>