By Suzette Martinez Standring
NSNC Past President
“Give a little to get a lot.”
I never forgot this memorable advice from Mary McCarty of the Dayton Daily News, who has won awards for unique insights often revealed in the telling details about, and the quotations from, the people featured in her columns.
I work at this, even as I enter my 13th year as a columnist. McCarty believes that sometimes you have to share a bit of yourself with the person you’re interviewing to put them at ease. It’s not just about hound dogging for a juicy quote.
I write religion columns, which can be a divisive subject. Nothing makes a person clam up more tightly than a question about creationism. But I don’t write about that. Instead, I’m fascinated by moments of faith, but “the hand of God” is not an easy opener.
Give a little to get a lot. This was put to the test when I interviewed Micky Ward, the famed boxer who was the subject of the movie, “The Fighter,” which starred actor Mark Wahlberg.
The movie was in its early filming stages in Lowell, Massachusetts, Ward’s hometown. It was my chance to interview the former boxer before any future movie success might shut me out. This was my thinking.
Full disclosure: I know little about boxing or sports in general. I never met Ward before. My crazy mission: discover a spiritual insight into this man.
At a gym in Chelsea, we were alone in a workout room with no chairs. Ward leaned against a boxing ring, and I had no choice but to sit on the floor at his feet, tapping away on my laptop. Ward is a shy, guarded man of few words.
I did everything wrong. I was so nervous and intent on “getting what I came for,” that I machine-gunned religious-related questions at him.
Did he grow up in any particular faith? Catholic, but in name only.
And so it went. Every question seemed to turn up “no,” “not really,” and “I don’t know.”
After scoring this incredible face-to-face time with Micky Ward, I was going home with zip. Suddenly, I recalled the good advice from others: Allow the subject to tell his story. Don’t come in with a hard agenda. And in giant marquee letters, “Give a little to get a lot.”
This impasse was my fault. I looked up at Ward and said, “You know, I never thought I’d be a writer. If you knew my background, growing up in a poor neighborhood in San Francisco, and never having attended college, this is the last place I ever expected to be, talking to someone like you. I think God had a plan for me. Do you ever feel that way?”
He paused and said, “You know, I think my whole life turned around the very first time I prayed.”
And from there, a fascinating story emerged. Afterwards Ward confided that he typically shies away from talking about religion because “people kinda look at you like you’re crazy.”
Give a little to get a lot. To me, it’s neither a tactic nor a technique. It’s a reminder that people respond when they feel safe and sense you mean them no harm. I am mindful of the ancient Sanskrit word, “Namaste,” which means, “The heart in me honors the heart in you” and I apply it to my work. Give it a try.
Email Suzette Standring: email@example.com or visit http://www.readsuzette.com/ She is the award winning author of The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists.