For our 70th anniversary Cumberland Conversation seminar on Saturday 15 July, an audience of about 60 guests joined us to hear from tjhe renowned historian, writer and philosopher, Theodore Zeldin, on 'The Art of Conversation'.
The event was chaired by our Principal, Ed Newell, who spoke to Theodore about his views on the importance of conversation for stimulating the mind, challenging prejudices and received ideas, and introducing new ways of thinking.
Theodore challenged the audience to think about what they should do with their lives, both in youth and older age, and talked about the importance of talking in depth to as many people as possible, as a means of learning about life and about the people around us. He argued that disagreement, if it is handled thoughtfully and without anger, can be both interesting and stimulating.
The conversation also looked at the need to learn from the difficult conversations of history, including the conversations our founder Amy Buller undertook in interwar Germany in the 1930s, including with leading Nazi figures, and another recently published book by a woman of Moroccan and German heritage who spoke to IS supporters who went to fight in Syria.
Theodore introduced The Oxford Muse, the charitable organisation he established to encourage people to have in-depth conversations with people who are strangers to them. This work has been carried out in 14 different countries so far and in a wide range of settings, including in businesses, universities, shops, public parks, church halls, and with immigrants, the homeless, the unemployed and ex-offenders.
Theodore spoke of the importance of talking to people about things that really matter to them, of discussing different points of view and thinking about how different experiences of life can be channeled to make a positive difference in the world.
He also called for a re-evaluation of 'the future of work' so that businesses became cultural hubs, where people learn and get introduced to new ideas and different aspects of life, to help move beyond the social barriers that stop people meeting and understanding each other.
His conversation with Ed Newell was followed by a 45-minute interactive session, in which the audience were invited to participate in one-to-one discussions with someone they had not met before (which has been edited out of the recording), and then by questions from the audience (which start at 23 minutes 25 seconds).