Our Life Stories - Sunday, August 23, 2015
We each have a backstory—the experiences, events, and choices that helped shape us into the people we’ve become. One of the best ways to understand a person, even someone we might disagree with, is to learn his or her story. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it this way: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”1 Though most of us don’t see each other as enemies, the sentiment is clear. It’s much harder to dislike a person whose story you understand.
For example, one man seemed to have a hard time connecting with other people. He wasn’t very easy to talk with; he had such strong opinions about almost everything. Many people found him off-putting or tiresome. But a neighbor made the effort to become his friend. He listened rather than judged; he understood instead of dismissed. The kind neighbor explained, “I learned a long time ago that everyone has a story to tell, and the more I get to know a person, the more I like him.”
This experience has been played out countless times in countless places. Perhaps you’ve lived it. It begins when you open your heart enough to say to someone, in so many words, “Tell me your story”—and then truly listen. You will hear some stories that will surprise you, others that will inspire and humble you.
As we listen with empathy and compassion, we come to see others much as we should see ourselves: some strengths and weaknesses; some successes and setbacks; some shining moments when we were truly our best selves, along with some mistakes and regrets. Insignificant differences between us begin to wash away, leaving the common experiences, hopes, and desires that unite the human family. Of course, some meaningful differences will most likely remain, but it will hardly seem worth ruining a potential friendship over them. In fact, the privilege of coming to understand someone better—and maybe even finding a new friend in the process—will become an important new chapter in our own backstory, helping us become kinder, more compassionate people.
-Lloyd D. Newell
1. Prose Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 2 vols. (1873), 1:452
Aug. 23, 2015
Broadcast Number 4,484
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Orchestra at Temple Square
Praise Ye the Lord
Be Thou My Vision
Irish melody; arr. Mack Wilberg
The Ash Grove
Welsh folk song; arr. John Longhurst
O Thou, the True and Only Light, from Saint Paul
One Person, from Dear World
Jerry Herman; arr. Ryan Murphy
All People That on Earth Do Dwell
Louis Bourgeois; arr. Mack Wilberg