When you ask Aunt Gertrude for her recipe for cabbage soup, does she instead talk about her pet turtle? Or, when you ask Uncle John about the time he accidentally rounded up a few of the neighbor’s cattle does his response instead focus on that 1950 Ford he drove to the prom?
If so, your relatives may be suffering from spinitis, an affliction that once primarily infected politicians but has spread to “news organizations” where spinitis-afflicted pundits and experts of all stripes have displaced reporters in producing hour after hour of unsubstantiated drivel and where reporters themselves too often don’t press for substantive answers to their queries.
Self-respecting collectors and keepers of family history should take great care to avoid this trend.
When you ask a question, you should expect one of three replies: 1. I don’t know (or remember); 2. I don’t want to talk about it or; 3. a direct, honest response to what you’ve asked.
This doesn’t mean you need to be confrontational, combative or abrasive. Indeed, all interview subjects should be made to feel comfortable and all questions should be asked clearly and respectfully. Persons being interviewed should be allowed to answer each and every question fully and in their own words, without interruption or outside influence.
But they need to provide an answer satisfactory to both parties. Without that, nothing meaningful is learned.
Flickr photo courtesy of beatnikside.