Guests are randomly seated in pairs. Each is given a Menu of Conversation, which lists about two dozen topics for discussion. For example, “What are the limits of your compassion?”, or “How have your priorities changed over the years?”, or “What moral, intellectual, aesthetic and social effects does the work you do have on others and on yourself?” The participants are invited to exchange their experiences, to reflect on how these could be of value to other people, to compare them with attitudes to the same problems in other civilisations. The rules of the game ensure that the conversation does not lapse into a monologue by either party or into a regurgitation of pet obsessions. Different Menus are also composed at the request of specific organisations or occupations.
Over two thousand people, in fourteen countries, and from every social category, have tested our Muse Conversations. Virtually all the guests have emergedenthusiastic and astonished; they welcome having questions that raise issues they habitually leave half-answered at the back of their minds, they particularly appreciate the questions demanding a lot of thought about how they are living their lives,, which makes the conversation unusually significant and memorable , and they value having a structure,, which prevents them from being distracted into aimless chat. They wonder why there are so few opportunities to talk honestly to one person for two hours or more without interruption. “I’m amazed at the frankness with which people were saying things to each other within minutes,” said the C.E.O. of a confederation of employers. A refugee living in a hostel for the homeless said, “This is the first real conversation I have had in the five years of my exile.” “While I learned much about my colleague, I learned even more about myself. She helped me reveal more about myself that can prove helpful for me,” said a man working for a mobile phone company. “I thought things I haven’t thought before and maybe realised things I didn’t know,” said a science researcher. “I do not remember when was the last time I had this kind of conversation with anyone,” said a social worker. A trade union leader paired with someone half his age said, “I enjoyed meeting, talking and listening to my conversational partner and she has restored my faith in younger people.” “I found it thought-provoking and inspiring,” said a chief superintendent of police. “I sat next to a guy who is a work colleague. I’ve known him for twenty years on and off but I found out more tonight from speaking to him than I did in twenty years of working near him and passing him by.” “We talked about things we would never discuss with work mates, and rank did not play any part,” said a local government clerk. “Fascinating and enjoyable; hidden depths uncovered,” wrote a doctor in charge of a national health system. “I’ve lived in six countries and work in English, French and Chinese,” said a lawyer, “and feel keenly the appropriateness of this project.” “It opened up areas of dialogue that people in the work environment would be reluctant to open up,” said an accountant. The method has been successfully used by corporations to improve collaboration in their organisations, by government ministries to get to know their colleagues better, as well as by universities, municipalities, doctor’s surgeries, the World Economic Forum etc, but the hunger for more profound conversation remains among many families, lovers and workmates.
Where? Why do so many individuals spend such a large proportion of their waking hours in boring, futile and sometimes servile employment, why there are not enough worthwhile and life-enhancing jobs to suit the talents of new generations, and why there is often more disillusionment, more betrayal, more back-stabbing at work than in families. The triumphs of technology and medicine have been achieved by endless experimentation, “research and development”. So we are encouraging professions and firms to create, side by side with their existing practices, the equivalent of a laboratory to try out, on a small scale, different possible ways of reinventing themselves, to fulfil a wider range of present-day aspirations.
See Theodore Zeldin’s latest book, The Hidden Pleasures of Life: A New Way of Remembering the Past and Imagining the Future, chapters on ‘What is the point of working so hard?’ and ‘Are there more amusing ways of earning a living?’, ‘What else can one do in a hotel?’etc
We are collaborating with the University of Nottingham’s Gobal research theme of Culture and Communications with the research practice area of Digital Heritage.
And are recruiting students wishing to get experience of different professions and sectors. Please email if you would like to participate Get involved