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How to get your grandmother to talk about her vices

Learning to ask questions others want to answer.

About an hour into a Legacy Interview I ask, “what vices did you find particularly difficult to avoid?”

Most people do not hesitate to talk about the vices that pulled them down hard in the past. Most of the wisdom a person has to share, comes from failure or near failure.

Every person on earth struggles with vices. We are all pulled towards things that are not good for us; gambling, alcohol, drugs, success, being liked, laziness, gluttony. Much of success in life comes down to can you manage your vices long enough to do something valuable

Wisdom around vices can be transformative, particularly if it comes from someone who’s physical makeup is as similar as a parent to child, or a grandparent to grandchild. The wiring of some part of your brain, and a lot of your DNA is more similar than to anyone else.

It is good to know how your ancestors handled or fell victim to the pitfall of life. You may also learn how someone like you overcame things that seem impossible now. 

If you want to ask a grandparent about their vices they may be more reluctant to speak openly because they don’t want your opinion of them to change. This is natural, so asking deeper level questions like this take time to prepare them.

I would suggest a flow like this:

  1. Ask grandparents about their childhood. Getting someone to talk about a person they looked up to as a kid, often fills them with a sense of optimism. Ask them “why” that person was so respected. Really listen to the traits they notice about them. Some of those traits, they want you to see them with.

  2. Ask about times that were a struggle when they were young adults. Did you struggle in school? When did you become “on your own?”  This gives you a gauge for how much they are willing to disclose. If they are open and explain details this is a warm conversation and you can keep the line going. 

  3. Ask what they think is harder and easier about growing up today versus when they grew up. This will show you what vices and difficulties they are perceiving in both your world and their world. If they show compassion for either (or both) sides, then they would be highly likely to be open to the final question.

  4. “Grandma, what vices did you deal with that you think I might struggle with too? What did you do about it?”

From here just listen. If they say something that surprises you, you should react authentically. If they say something that you already knew, ask them to tell you more of the details. If they do say something impactful, do not try to lower the emotion of the situation, instead tell your grandmother that you are glad she told you and then tell her how learning that impacted how you view them. 

Ideally it won’t change how you see them in terms of some deeper feeling or respect. However, if it does change the way you think about them try to repeat back for them to make sure you understand. From there the conversation will flow, and you may be able to tell about your experience with the vice.

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