I’ve just started on ” The French” by Theodore Zeldin. I am enjoying it, but it is 500 plus densely printed pages so I’m telling you about it now, in case I stumble and fall on that long walk to Paris (don’t pronounce that ‘s’).
The first page or two is filled with quotes from great minds testifying how funny and insightful they found the book. This doesn’t surprise me as I recently heard Teddy (I would call him that to his face) on Radio 4. “New Conversation” was about who we talk to and how we talk to them. Teddy says a preoccupation with finding a soulmate is disastrous, as it doubles our imperfections. We need communities of difference, different jobs, different family situations, different ages, different races. If we learn how to deal with people who are different, we can absorb something from them and become more than we were previously. He advocates ‘serious conversation’, rather than exchanging superficial information with many, really engage with few, perhaps just one. Truly try to understand them, what they want from life, how they cope with difficulties, what they think about the world we live in.
This way of interacting has many applications ( from IKEA staff to doctors) but the programme dwells on a project Teddy is running in Lewisham. Most interesting is how we feel that if something needs to be changed, we need to have a big meeting, and all debate it together. One man in Lewisham, Cedric, is very skeptical when Theodore (I can’t maintain that level of frivolousness) says they will spend the next hour or two just talking to one other person. But afterwards Cedric says he found it fascinating (to his surprise they didn’t talk about what they ‘did’).
To me it seems a type of modesty. To not spread ourselves too thinly, bolstering our self esteem by the numbers of people we know. To understand that people who seem far removed from our circle can teach us a lot.