Here is an extraordinary little book that looks like it belongs on your coffee table. Perhaps the coffee table is the best place to put it, if it will start a few conversations!
Theodore Zeldin is a philosopher and the former dean of St. Anthony's College, Oxford. He has been internationally acclaimed as "one of the forty world figures whose ideas are likely to have a lasting relevance to the new millennium" (Independent on Sunday, U.K.).
Conversation is a conversation encouraging us to engage each other through listening and being open to change. In his words: The kind of conversation I'm interested in is the one which you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person. It is always an experiment, whose results are never guaranteed. It involves risk. It's an adventure in which we agree to cook the world together and make it taste less bitter.
Zeldin takes to task both Rhetoric (which often degenerates into flowery speech used to impress and manipulate people with its flourishes and charm) and Plain Speech which, in one stream, becomes a rejection of standards and turns into scientific jargon in a parallel stream. He even takes a jab at politically correct speech ("Every slimming diet has its dangers.")
By conversation we leave the boring landscape of just one perspective. I love this line: For about a century now, we have been brought up to believe in the virtues of introspection. But asking that same old question, "Who Am I?" cannot get us much further. However fascinating one may think one is, there is a limit to what one can know about oneself. Other people are infinitely more interesting, have infinitely more to say.
Zeldin covers topics such as "What saves family conversation from being boring," "Conversation in the workplace: why specialists are having to find a new way of talking," "What technology can do to conversation," and "How conversation encourages the meeting of minds." The book ends with a practical list of thirty-six topics of conversation.
Conversation is an excellent little book (103 pages) to get you thinking. However, if all you do is think--then Zeldin will have failed in his purpose. He wants to get you conversing!
"Since religion still continues to dominate discussion in many parts of the world, bringing believers and unbelievers together in conversation seems urgent as well as interesting."