In my line of work, writing freelance magazine articles, I speak to a whole lot of different people. And some of them are vulnerable.
Sure, there are the polished experts – Canada’s go-to spokespersons on this, or the country’s foremost researchers in that. There are even the B-list celebrities (A-listers are out of my reach) whose very living depends entirely on media attention.
But lots of times, I interview ordinary people who have survived difficult, even devastating, life experiences. I’ve talked with women who’ve tragically lost their unborn babies. I’ve spoken to parents whose children have mysterious, unbidden, possibly life-threatening medical conditions. I’ve had conversations with men and women who have been depressed, even suicidal. I’ve questioned people who have endured other hardships large and small that have impacted on their day-to-day lives in profound and lasting ways.
At the end of the day, when a writer is switching off her computer monitor and powering down, she might ask herself: What’s in it for them? Why do these people open themselves up, at times ripping apart metaphorical stitches, to expose their pain to the world?
I know the reason. It’s because they’re convinced they can make a difference. They can show other people they’re not alone. They can give advice, so important and precious, advice that can only come from someone who has walked the same path. They can do their part to lessen the pain for the next person.
I know for certain this is why they do it. Why else would someone who is not a pathological egomaniac reveal such personal details to hundreds of thousands of readers?
And yet I was reminded of it again last week, when I interviewed a woman who had survived a potentially lethal disease. While we talked, she cried a little. But she was candid and honest and answered every one of my questions.
Afterwards, she admitted she had considered whether or not to go ahead with the interview. She’s generally a private individual, she told me. This isn’t like her, to tell her story to a national magazine. But she knew it was the right thing to do.
“If it helps even one person,” she said, “it’s worth sharing what I went through.”
You know what? Her decision may save a life. Or multiple lives. I am constantly humbled by the generosity of the women and men I speak to. It’s no wonder I love my job. I get to see the compassion of the human spirit – truly, up close and very personal.