Human connection through human stories
I am in the business of listening to stories of heartache and setbacks, yet cannot resist reading posts from the photoblog Humans of New York, or HONY for short. The raw and untouched images and descriptions of the ups and downs of ordinary daily life instantly ignite me to laugh and sometimes cry. Imagine millions of people moved by a story broadcast on a phone! Readers’ comments uncover the countless ways others translate what they see, and become willing to lend a helping hand to a distant cause. HONY has emerged as an engaged global community with its finger on the pulse of living life as seen on a city’s streets.
Visionary Brandon Stanton writes the story of how it all began.
“Humans of New York began in 2010 as a photography project. The goal was to simply photograph and catalog 10,000 random New Yorkers on city streets. Along the way I started to interview my subjects and include their quotes and brief stories. The portraits and captions together coalesced into a vibrant blog. HONY today has over twenty million world followers intrigued by unvarnished glimpses into the lives of others traversing and joined together on New York City’s streets.
— Brandon Stanton
Thanks to Brandon’s efforts, an authentic bird’s-eye-view shows us our fellow sojourners’ suffering and compassion. Their riveting stories broaden my understanding of society-at-large, and compel my belief in the power of individual biographies to unleash love’s transformative vision.
5 Lessons I Learned from Humans of New York
I am human.
In the mental health field we are taught to distance ourselves from clients to facilitate separating their needs as distinct from our own. Visiting HONY allows me to discard my professional persona. I relate to a photographed individual as a member of humanity. I see reality exposed, rejected and embraced all at the same time.
Everyone has a story.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that struggle is a one-size-fits-all template of drama, pain and limitations. Whenever I catch myself going into this mode, it’s time to pause and connect with the person in front of me by injecting a large dose of curiosity. HONY posts emphasize the uniqueness and originality inside each of us. HONY creatively pulls in our common threads of guilt, grief, greed and anguish which remind us we exist together.
How did the mind twist itself in this way?
Is there motivation to heal?
Can forgiveness be sincerely offered?
The subjects show us – for that moment – how they want to be seen and heard.
Another tempting trap for mental health professionals is to look at a person who needs our help as someone who lacks the means to get past their troubles without us. We enter into sessions by looking at our clients through a lens of fixing or carrying their burdens. Eventually these types of “good intentions” lead us to bad places such as burnout and codependency.
Each HONY story depicts a main character or two for us to meet through pictures and words. Instead of Brandon writing his own interpretation, the character uses his/her voice to share an experience. This VIP ticket is a gift and privilege of intimacy. Listening to others is powerful.
Life is for living … not apologizing for mistakes along the way.
HONY features people who can tell me something which breaks my heart, forces me to see my own reflection or change an attitude. Whether they are homeless, jobless, clean toilets or are a street performer, HONY is a platform for all people. Regardless of race, color, gender, body size, social status or age, its subjects speak up and teach me about many life lessons including forgiveness, growth and purpose. It’s not hard to see if a person is in a place of thriving or apologizing. These strangers deeply and lovingly touch our hearts.
Strangers can deeply and lovingly touch our hearts.
One HONY subject laughs at his insecurities, another is shamed by them. And so it is that a total stranger teaches me the consequence of how I choose. HONY reveals a myriad of twist and turn narratives. When a heart is moved, it gets a chance to open a little wider. More light dispels shadows to help them fade into the background.
Clients must find a safe and open space in coaching to imagine possibilities and believe again in their unique potential. After they shed their insecurities and step into a place of love, they are no longer a stranger to themselves. They become a trusted partner who is willing to discover inspiration in the ordinary.