Story and Why
Tom Gilbert - Copyright © April, 2012
“Each human being is
unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have
lived. We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may
the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live
Henri Nouwen, Bread
for the Journey,
To know your self is a powerful thing. Plato attributed to Socrates the
importance of this ancient wisdom – “Know
When you make the decision to tell your life story you start on a
that will be very revealing. You will meet someone very special.
Personal history is indeed a process. As the information is uncovered
up your story you will be constantly reflecting on it. Who am I? Where
from? What matters most? These are just a few of the probing and
questions every life story, memoir or personal journey must ask. The
behind these questions are wonderful gems to be mined and to reveal to
others) the story of you.
Most teachers will tell you that preparation is essential for good
The same is true for your memoir or life story project. Before you sit
an interview you need to mentally prepare. It is not essential that you
know all the questions in advance, but I think it is a good idea to
know some of
them. And it helps to also have an idea of what parts of your life each
interview will cover. A good personal historian will know this and
advance this information.
Let’s take a moment to consider the right questions. Say you
are going to
talk about your experience traveling to a remote land. The overarching
“who, what, when, where, how and why” are great
guides. Who was on the trip?
What was it like? When and where (precisely) did you go? How did you
get there? And why
did you go? Can you see how these words are guides to core information?
Beyond the W,W,W,W,H
& W are the questions that have you
pondering the experience on a deeper
level. A good interviewer will know how to ask without pushing and,
more importantly, how to wait for your answer. Thought-provoking
require time to answer. It’s best when the question is asked
blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. Pause and consider. If
the questions are ones
you have thought about beforehand then chances are you will provide
that “story gold” we all are hoping for.
What are some good questions for life review? There are many. Here are
of my favorites.
What places have been most important to you and why?
lessons has your work life taught you?
you describe your religious or spiritual beliefs?
do you want most for those you love?
Did you experience any dramatic changes in health or circumstances?
Have you been present to someone’s birth (such as your
Have you been present to someone’s death (a parent or family
What did those experiences mean to you?
What annoys you or bothers you?
What is your favorite way to relax?
Consider the most important lessons you’ve learned in life.
you share about that to the next generation?
As you can see, these are deep and introspective questions. Sure, I
also knowing about people’s hobbies, favorite colors,
what makes them laugh, ways they like to travel and what their favorite
movies are. But the right questions are really important.
them. And think about them in advance of your life story interview.
I’ve come across many helpful questions over the years, often
personal historians. I am always working on my list. If you have some
or you’d like to get more simply contact
me by email.