The Power of a Human Voice

A human voice can help a country heal.

Simply listening to someone tell their story can fill you with empathy and compassion. It can lead to forgiveness. Our voices are powerful.

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I began my career as a journalist more than 20 years ago, volunteering at a small radio station in Soweto, South Africa. At the time, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was trying to knit the country back together.

The idea was simple: get people on opposite sides of a violent, deadly conflict to share their stories, then listen to each other. Posters hung all over Soweto and Johannesburg that read “Tell Us What Happened. Your Story Counts.”

Today, South Africa is not a perfect place — but it has left its legacy of state-sponsored violence and racial oppression behind. The power of the human voice made that difference. Thousands of stories were counted. I still have that poster on my wall.

Listening to another person’s voice is incredibly powerful. It’s why we built 60dB.

Think of everything you learn by listening carefully to someone talk. Often you can guess their age, and their gender. Maybe where they grew up. Often you can feel the emotions they feel — their happiness, their fear, their love.

After years of recording interviews and cutting tape, I’m convinced I can hear when someone is smiling when they speak.

Voices can create empathy and understanding; they transmit emotion. We are wired to feel each other this way. One of my favorite producers, Joe Richmond, calls it “radio’s super-power.” There is no newspaper or video that will ever match the ability of a simple human voice to create an emotional connection. Audio is better at this than anything.

A reporter’s microphone gives you the license to go places you might never have gone — speak to people you might never speak with. Listeners — millions of them — are privileged to come along.

Listening can be hard. Especially if you are listening to something you don’t understand, or disagree with:

And great interviews shed light on the world. Conversations help us understand not only what is happening in the world, but why:

Stories can transport you and inform you:

Voices can fill you with joy:

Even when you don’t understand the words someone is saying, a human voice still establishes a connection like nothing else can.

When I was a little kid, my grandfather told me stories about his life. He had no pictures to share. He had no videos, or emojis, no virtual reality.

He had his voice. His stories. And that voice left me with a deep sense of empathy for what he experienced. A life that spanned the 20th century. He saw horror and miracles. He knew hunger and joy. His voice took me there.

At 60dB, we are setting out to transport listeners and connect them with powerful voices in the same way. We want to do that for the entire world.

Written by

I am building something cool. I used to tell stories for @NPR @planetmoney and @marketplace. Dad, Ultimate player, and gimpy triathlete. The egg is mine.

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