Who benefits from this process? Where is the value in this project?
Everybody wins here. Everyone involved in the process, from the interview subject, to the family watching the video, and even the interviewer, receives value from participating. This post explores the interview process from these different perspectives.
The Interview Subject
I can't know exactly what it's like to be the interviewee because I don't sit in that seat and I haven't lived their life. However, from sitting in the other seat, looking the interviewee in the eye and asking questions, spending hours editing the video, blending in their photos, and transcribing, I get a sense of how the project feels for them. No adjective adequately describes it, so I can only explain it through the process.
People being interviewed about their lives tend to take the process seriously. They know the interview will remain long after they are gone, it is a way to preserve stories that would otherwise be forgotten, and it connects them with future, even unborn, generations. Imagine a great-great granddaughter, whose mother is unborn or is a baby herself, watching your video thirty years from now. Heavy, right? What would you like her to know about you and her heritage? What would you say to her right now? This project provides that very opportunity. The gravity of the process can weigh upon you if you really think about it, and it is natural to want to get things "right." It is also natural for one to portray themselves in a positive light.
It is impossible to share every story of your life, and that of your family, in just a few hours. You have to be judicious in what you discuss, so you should avoid going down too many rabbit holes. For this reason, it is important that the interview subject spend a few days before the interview reflecting about their life, reviewing journals, yearbooks, photos, etc. Ultimately, this is a vehicle for people to connect with future generations in a lasting way.
This process likely stirs up several emotions at once. It can inspire nostalgia, joy, gratitude, dread, anger and regret all within minutes of each other. The interview subject is recalling memories and feelings that haven't been accessed in years or decades, and the process can be intense and cathartic. Having said that, I have personally witnessed a sense of relief and closure when the process is complete. There is a palpable sense of accomplishment in the air, not unlike completing an academic school year.
Here at Eternal Roots we give you the option of having copies of the package, both the disc and the transcript, delivered directly to the interview subject's family members (or other people of their choosing).
If they know this project is in the works, and that a copy of the disc is incoming, it will be received with great anticipation. This is an opportunity for family members to get to know a parent or grandparent in an intimate and lasting way. They get to hear about the interview subject's successes and failures, including questions they may have never thought to ask. This is also a vehicle for oral traditions to continue in a tangible medium. Not only can you get to know your parent/grandparent on a deeper level, you can share this with your own children, giving them a sense of belonging.
I ask the interview subject to go as far back in their ancestry as they can recall, then move forward to discuss their children and grandchildren. Hearing your parent/grandparent talk about you, coming from a place of love and pride, will make you feel connected. You get a sense of where you fit in, as the interview subject discusses their upbringing, and eventually discusses how you came into this world and your effect on them.
However, the impact on the viewer is unique to the viewer and their relationship with the interview subject. Regardless, you will come out of this process feeling more connected with the interview subject and your heritage.
The interviewer is the lucky one.
In researching his timeless book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill interviewed 500 of the most successful people of the time. Their wisdom and insight filled the pages of this transcendent book. Do you think any of their mojo rubbed off on Napoleon? It's not feasible to image that process having no impact on him. One of my favorite personal development authors is Darren Hardy. He's the former Editor of Success magazine. Every month he had the privilege of interviewing titans of industry and entrepreneurs about their stories, and the interviews were published on CDs that shipped with every issue of the magazine. If I grew from listening to those CDs, how much did Darren grow from preparing for the interviews, conversing with the interview subjects and editing the interview? The interviewer must grow from this process, and if you are not growing from interviewing people, then you aren't paying attention.
Interviewing people about their lives is a privilege because I get to soak up the life lessons of people from many different walks of life, people with experiences and backgrounds different from my own, people who grew up in a completely different time. Talk to enough people about growing up during the Great Depression, and you will appreciate the things you take for granted. Talk to a couple dozen people about their successes, failures, inspirations, lessons, regrets and accomplishments, and watch what happens to you. Talk to enough people about their lives, and it will become a mirror for your own. Talk to people about their failures, then avoid the same mistakes. Talk to people about their successes, then emulate their activity. By interviewing others about their lives, you are the greatest beneficiary of all!
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.