Between the heated clashes on cable news, hate-filled posts on social media, and acts of violence in the offline world, maintaining hope for the country probably feels pretty difficult right now.
But for StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, those divisions are “just not who we are.”
StoryCorps has collected audio stories from half a million people since it was founded in 2003. The nonprofit is now making it its mission to restore some of that hope in people with a new project called “One Small Step.”
“We call it ‘One Small Step’ because it’s just one step away from the cliff,” Isay told CNN’s Brian Stelter on this week’s “Reliable Sources” podcast. “But we’ve got to take that step away from the cliff.”
But Isay said that sitting in a booth, face to face, has prompted StoryCorps participants to be “kind to each other.”
“If Twitter unleashes your worst self or can unleash your worst self, or social media can unleash your worst self, being in a booth and being conscious that your great great great grandkids are going to listen to this thing just brings, you know, your best angel forward,” Isay said.
Listen to the podcast here:
StoryCorps holds “the largest collection of human voices ever gathered,” Isay said. The collection is archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, and can be heard on NPR, as well as the StoryCorps website.
Each story is an intimate conversation between friends and family, with people asking loved ones personal questions they’ve never had the opportunity to ask them.
A facilitator accompanies the individuals in an audio booth where the door is closed, the lights are low, and there is complete silence except for the sound of their voices, Isay said. The interview lasts 40 minutes, and it typically elicits emotional conversations between the participants.
Isay’s experience with StoryCorps over the years has been “transformative” for him, he said.
“I think it’s made me much, much, much, more hopeful,” Isay said. “I am way less fearful and way more hopeful about people after having this experience, and I know a lot more.”
StoryCorps created “One Small Step” in preparation for the midterm elections, he said.
“We started thinking about doing something completely different, which is putting people on opposite sides of the political divides together in a StoryCorps booth,” Isay said.
StoryCorps experimented with the concept for months, first with family members who had opposing political views, and then with strangers.
“This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Isay said. But the results have been positive so far.
The project puts “people in the booth not to talk about politics, but just to realize that you don’t actually want that person dead,” Isay said. It’s for the purpose of “getting to know each other as human beings.”