Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What's in a class name?

Alice Araujo has invited me to do a personal essay workshop tonight with her interpersonal communication class at Mary Baldwin College. I'm delighted to do it, but feeling slightly challenged by the name of the class. Communicate interpersonally. Hmmmm.

My take on the best way to do that has certainly changed over the years.

I used to think you could benefit greatly simply by knowing what I think. I'd offer up my opinion at the drop of a feather, thank-you (no need, at all your you to go hat-less). I'd  lob what I think about any subject into any conversation, my conclusion offered unencumbered by source, experience, or any other attribution. I guess I thought you'd value my opinion simply because I'd opened my mouth and spoken. Looking back, I seem to have considered myself an Every-I, an Uber-I, right up there in wisdom with  those politicians who deliver their own opinions after such phrases as "The American People want . . ." or even (Yahweh help us) "God wants. . ."

I had met the enemy and it was me, for I well remember the roaring rebelliousness this kind of Elder Wisdom wrought inside me as a kid. Why were my opinions less valid than grown-ups',I'd demand to know, simply because grownups are old?

And then--just for a short while, I hope--I became that same kind of grown-up. Yuck!

Luckily, however, I began working in public radio and writing print essays, both of which rely heavily on story-telling. And these experiences lead me to realize that we don't learn anything very useful by telling each other what we think--wisdom is something each of us has to accrue on our own. But we can, I believe, usefully tell each other our stories (both actual and intellectual); thus giving others the same opportunities we've had  to deepen our awareness of ourselves and our world..

So tonight, I'll be talking to those Mary Baldwin students about story-telling--using some of my own essays to make my points; 500 words that communicate not just what I think, but how I came to think it. And during the day, today, I'll be editing a segment of my "One Person's Voice" series for Morning Edition later this week bringing you the voice if a young woman photographer on a mission.

She's three-and-a-half decades younger than I am. And I learned a lot from her story.

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