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Monday 21st May 2018

How to have better conversations

1st March 2007

The frustrations of relationships and of work are at the root of much illness in today's society, writes Theodore Zeldin, fellow of St. Antony's College, Oxford.

know yourself

Technology cannot tell people who to love, what to think, where to go, or what to do for a living. Individuals are often prompted to grow and change as a result of encounters with unfamiliar persons, ideas, or situations.

"Fear, which is a major obstacle to change, is constantly being diminished by meetings that turn the unfamiliar into the familiar, even though new fears often arise to replace old fears," says Zeldin, who has is carrying out research into the social uses of conversation under EU funding.

And the chief tool for such changing encounters, he says, is conversation.

"We are beginning to realise that laws and guns are incapable of altering mentalities and that change is superficial if mentalities are not altered," he says.

Not the kind of conversation where people simply pass the time, nor the kind where they try to win arguments. Zeldin imagines a new kind of conversation, which "becomes possible when we believe that we are incomplete and need to share in the experience of others in order to become fully human."

He says that while talk has become an essential part of most forms of work nowadays, it is still hard for specialists in different areas of activity to understand each, and calls for the education system to aim to produce more broadly educated generalists.

And the healthcare professions, Zeldin says, can help, especially doctors who are seeking to balance their lives with other activities, perhaps by working part-time.

"I should like doctors to look beyond the problems of their own profession and participate in the creation of less frustrating and narrow work for other people as well as for themselves."

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