All material ©2006 Initiatives of Change

Hospitality and Storytelling

The basic format of Open Homes, Listening Hearts is a shared meal and conversation. It is important for this to be adapted to your own situation so that your guests can learn about you and your culture while you learn about theirs.

The goal is not to argue over differences or point out faults, nor is it to plan a project for solving community problems. That can come later, if the people involved feel it is a good idea.

Instead, the focus is personal storytelling. Each person will be given time to tell a story from his or her personal experience. This is a great way to learn about others and to share your view of life. Bishop Desmond Tutu once said that storytelling can be a path to healing painful divisions in our country.

To begin, people could share a story of a time when they tried to tell someone something but felt they weren’t being heard. This might be a humorous or a serious story. They could also explain why they felt that way. That would help everyone think about good listening skills and about any personal or cultural expectations of the group.

Then, starting with the host, each person could tell a story about herself or himself related to one topic, or each person could choose or be given a different topic. There are also some storytelling board games you can use.

Storytelling topics could include:

  • Describe a time when you didn’t feel properly recognized for something you accomplished
  • Describe a time you felt respected by others of your culture or faith
  • Describe a time you felt powerless to change a situation because of your culture or faith
  • Describe a time you had a vision and made it happen
  • Tell about your favorite cultural or religious celebration and why it is special to you
  • Tell what your name means and why it was given to you
  • Tell something that you feel people don’t understand about your culture or faith
  • Give a personal response to a challenging quote such as:  “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

Why Open Homes?

On the street, in the news, at the gym -- every day we see people who are very different from us -- people whom we don’t understand. Maybe we are afraid of them, maybe we are angry at them, maybe we wish they’d go away. But they aren’t going away. Today, the whole world is represented in the people of America. And if this great American experiment is to succeed, we each have to learn to live better with “those” people. Open Homes, Listening Hearts is an opportunity to break through some of the confusion and misunderstanding through hospitality and storytelling.

This task is not the responsibility of any one group. All have a part: liberals and conservatives, young and old, immigrant and native. By connecting the rich resources of our many cultures, we can make America a place of hope, creativity and opportunity for everyone. And, hopefully, we will provide a model for a world torn apart by racial, religious and ethnic hatred and fear.



In 2002, Initiatives of Change established Open Homes, Listening Hearts as a day when individuals around the world could reach out to people with whom they wouldn’t normally interact—usually of a different race, ethnicity or religion—and include those people in occasions in their homes or community.

On previous Open Homes days, people from America to Australia shared hospitality and storytelling. The events involved hosts and guests from Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, Croatia, Fiji, the Republic of Georgia, India, Iran, Iraq, Korea, Kosovo, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, the US and Venezuela; among them were Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and people of no particular faith.

The goal is for people in our often disconnected communities to truly hear and be heard without judgment or blame. Deeply held beliefs and attitudes are usually formed by specific personal experiences, so the focus of Open Homes is to discover these experiences through personal storytelling. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa once told members of Congress that the most effective way to heal the divisions and wounds of history in the US is to provide opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds to tell their stories.

This annual, international event provides a practical way of building bridges and creating new friendships across cultures, religions and traditions. Although many people already do this sort of thing individually, Open Homes, Listening Hearts is a unique opportunity for united action involving a worldwide community.