November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
By way of Mockingbird, I saw a c-ville interview with Lulu Miller, co-host of NPR’s Invisibilia, in which she speaks on the value of listening to authentic stories. Sounds as if she’s taken some lessons from Dick Gordon.
She’s often amazed at the things people reveal about themselves in an interview. It’s a reminder that when you’re vulnerable, “when you do show your worst side, that can be an act of humanity, because it shows everyone that everybody else is so deeply imperfect,” Miller says. “That can be such a gift, because sometimes people put up such a front.”
(I would think that a lot of the gifts she receives don’t have bows.)
Miller continues about not just listening, but really listening:
“Really listen,” Miller says. “Really show you’re with them. Sometimes people are almost shocked when they’re very closely listened to.” Once the person is a bit more relaxed, she says she starts poking and prodding gently.
“The range of people and their take on the world, that’s what never ceases to amaze me,” Miller says.
Invisibilia‘s most recent episode is titled “Outside In” and asks whether external change can produce inner change. In it, they talk to members of an all-female debate team in Rwanda. Following the genocide in 1994, the formerly male-dominated country was left with a population reported to be at least 70% female—because so many men had been killed, had been arrested for the killing, or had fled. To fill needed jobs, Rwanda legislated gender equality, without first going through a gradual change in culture. Has it worked? Invisibilia follows an all-female debate team as they push against long-held expectations. In one debate, by the luck of the draw, they had to argue the negative position on the topic “Developing countries should adopt Western feminism.” You can listen to the podcast to see how that turned out.
Another Invisibilia installment, “The Personality Myth,” is about the idea that personalities are more malleable than we commonly assume. It focuses in part on a woman who finds out about a TEDx event in the Marion Correctional Institution and meets a prisoner whose personality has seemed to change dramatically. One of the links at the podcast website is to an NPR article on personality tests, written by Annie Murphy Paul, author or The Cult of Personality Testing. If you can’t tell by the title of her book, Murphy Paul is not a fan of such things as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Simply put, she says that “human beings are far too complex, too mysterious and too interesting to be defined by the banal categories of personality tests.”
Even if you agree, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use your four-letter MBTI code for a little fun and games.
Speaking of fun and games, each episode of Invisibilia includes a downloadable coloring page of the episode art.
And finally, back to Miller’s listening skills: John Casey, professor in the University of Virginia creative writing MFA program where Miller studied, describes her in The University of Virginia Magazine as “extremely sympathetic and attentive, and people open up to her because she is open to them.”
Those sound like the qualities demonstrated by Shawn Braley and Chris Ashwell, who direct Cincy Stories in Cincinnati. Their project, inviting locals to tell their unedited stories, began when Braley, a church pastor, was looking for a way to connect with his neighbors. Braley was inspired by StoryCorps and The Moth, two more personal-story telling podcasts from NPR.
But, Braley tells Christianity Today, his main inspiration is “obviously” Jesus. “The marginalized people and the people on the outskirts: He loves them and just listens to them, and that’s why they’re drawn to him. We want to replicate that.”
We can see Jesus’ come-as-you-are attitude catching many people off guard in the pages of the New Testament, and Braley enjoys doing the same.
“What I see often,” he says, “is, ‘Wait . . . there is a pastor overseeing this, and you still let me tell my story?’”
For a taste of Cincy Stories, here’s Caitlin Behle, who says,
I’m still Asian as far as I can tell and I’m still adopted and I feel really good about it so that’s something that I haven’t really had to question . . . until this one time. So in November 2010 I went to Korea for the first time, like since I’d been born there. . . .
Erin O’Hare, “Lulu Miller on the Fulfillment of Making ‘Invisibilia,'” c-ville, November 9, 2016; Annie Murphy Paul, “Personality Tests Are Popular, But Do They Capture the Real You?” Shots, NPR, June 25, 2016; Michelle Koidin Jaffe, “Podcast People,” University of Virginia Magazine, January 19, 2015; Jennifer Ditlevson Haglund, “How Uncensored Storytelling Helped Cincinnati Churchgoers to See Their Real Neighbors,” Christianity Today, September 2016)
[photo: “Listen to the Radio,” by Mike, used under a Creative Commons license]
July 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
Here’s another entry for my list of movies “coming later to a library near you”—the documentary Rising from Ashes (2012), directed by T.C. Johnstone and narrated by Forest Whitaker.
It tells the story of the formation of a bicycling team in Rwanda and its quest to send a rider to the 2012 London Olympics. Coached by American Jock Boyer, the team includes many who as children had lost multiple family members in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Therefore, Team Rwanda has to deal not only with issues of equipment, conditioning, and time trials, but they also tackle such things as loss, emotional pain, and poverty.
One of the focal points of the film is Adrien Niyonshuti, a member of the team who lost 60 members of his family, including 6 brothers, in the genocide. Since the documentary was completed, Niyonshuti became the first cyclist to represent Rwanda in the Olympics and the first black African to qualify in mountain biking.
Rising from Ashes also features Boyer, someone who knows about firsts—being the first American to race in the Tour de France. He also knows about defeat and brokenness and striving to rebuild lives. In 2002 Boyer pled guilty to having sexual contact with a girl beginning when she was 12 years old and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. That sentence was stayed, and he was put on 5 years probation and spent 8 months in jail. A 2009 article about Boyer in the magazine Bicycling begins with the simple sentence, “The child molester prays before every meal.” It then goes on to give a detailed account of Boyer’s life, his crime, and his work in Rwanda, where he now lives.
Boyer was invited to Africa by the bicycle builder and racer Tom Ritchey, who himself had come to Rwanda searching for meaning in his own life. “To me, Rwanda represents new beginnings,” he told Bicycling, “Goodness, mercy, hope. Rwanda is me. . . . It’s anyone having to work through serious disappointments in life.”
That is the story of Rwanda, not wanting to be defined by the past mass killings but to be celebrated for redemption, recovery, . . . and champions racing on bikes.
[photo from First Run Features]