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National Day of Listening aims to inspire focus on others, not self

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The day after Thanksgiving is a day on which I tend to tune out the media in an attempt to ignore America’s growing focus on self. News reports are often filled with stories of arguing consumers, exhausted store clerks, and at least one or two dangerous shopper stampedes. The Internet seems to be filled with coupons and special deals, while the radio is saturated with cheery ads encouraging more spending.

However, this year, you’ll find me curled up in a blanket listening intently to my local radio station.

What I have always considered the national day of self will be transformed into something of a national day for others, due to a recent initiative to name Black Friday as the National Day of Listening, rather than acknowledging its association with shouting shoppers. Begun on Black Friday of 2008, the National Day of Listening is an offshoot of the popular StoryCorps series, which records conversations between average Americans and broadcasts them weekly on National Public Radio. The National Day of Listening was created to offer an alternative to the yearly shopping spree by offering a specific time during which participants could take an hour to create their own StoryCorps-like dialogue.

“[It’s] a meaningful alternative to holiday consumerism,” said StoryCorps’ Saha Evans in a recent article on Good.is. “Listening to one another is the least expensive and most meaningful gift we can give.” According to the article, participants can download a guide to home recording — complete with question suggestions — record their own story, and share it, either by sending along the file or leaving a note about the experience on a “Wall of Listening.”

StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening is a small step in what I see as a national trend toward listening and toward a greater recognition that others may be more important, or at least more interesting, than oneself. Public radio shows focused on the telling and preserving of stories have cropped up on numerous stations and are held weekly across the country.

The Moth Radio Hour presents stories, told live and without notes, by people from all walks of life to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. Each show features simple, old-fashioned storytelling on relevant themes by average Americans who share their stories with The Moth’s directors. The show is produced by Jay Allison and distributed by PRX. It was launched in 2009 and is carried by more than 200 stations across the country. The weekly radio hour is a small part of The Moth’s larger offering, which is outlined on its website themoth.org. It includes six other programs: The Moth Mainstage, The Moth StorySLAM program, The Moth_SHOP Community Program, _The Moth Podcast, _The Moth_SHOP Business Program, and MothUP.

This American Life is a weekly public radio show that includes a grouping of (mostly true) stories told by normal people, brought together under a specific theme each week. This American Life is broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 1.7 million listeners, and it is also the most popular podcast in the country most weeks. It is produced by Chicago Public Media and distributed by Public Radio International. Recent episodes have featured themes such as “Petty Tyrant,” “This Party Sucks,” and “Crybabies.” Contributors range from average people who happen to have interesting stories to tell, to professional writers and comics, including David Sedaris, Mike Birbiglia, Dan Savage, and Sarah Vowell.

I’m personally excited to celebrate this hopeful trend in American media, especially on Black Friday. So while my relatives and friends may be struggling through aisles and lifting boxes, I plan to be shuffling through my local radio station, sipping a cup of tea, and listening to interviews from the StoryCorps collection. If you’d like to join me, you can visit nationaldayoflistening.org to tune in to stories on Black Friday, or to download the tools to record your own.