Six lessons I learned from Humans of New York

I recently listened to the Tim Ferris podcast where he interviews Brandon Stanton, the founder of Humans of New York (HONY).  I have always loved the site Humans of New York because it represents such a raw view of humanity through a lens of compassion.

Here are the lessons I learned from the discussion:

Start by taking the first step. Brandon started HONY because he wanted to do something he enjoyed and he loved taking photographs.  He didn’t start to create something that 25 million people would follow, he started by taking a few photographs each day.

Don’t allow what other people say to stop you from doing what you believe in.  At one point during the podcast Brandon is overcome by the emotion of an early memory.  When he was first starting out people told him he was crazy and a freak and shouldn’t be doing what he was doing. But he believed in the value of what he was doing and the power of story.  Their words hurt him, deeply, but he kept going.

It doesn’t matter what question you ask people, only that you are present for them. When Brandon approaches someone he asks if he can take their picture.  Then he asks about their story.  He doesn’t try to direct them, or respond to them a certain way.  He just listens to them without judgement.  And people open up to him and share stories that they sometimes haven’t told anyone else.

Allow people to have agency over their stories. Let them chose how much to share and to stop when they are uncomfortable.

Everyone has times when they are lonely. It is important to connect with others when you are lonely or when you see someone who might be lonely. Just ask them questions, listen to the answers, and take it from there.

Each of us has something that causes pain or suffering.  It can be as simple as problems at work that day, surviving abuse, addiction, or many other things.  We can each lift each other up by reaching out and asking, “how are you?” and then listen to the answer.  Not with your ears, but with your heart.

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