The art of conversation

“I’m travelling to find myself. To find who I really am. To discover the potential within me. Too experience all the world has to offer.”

Or so many say about travel. And it’s true. But what if you could do the same from home? Would it be boring? What would it look like?

I got introduced to Alain de Botton through his book “The Art of Travel” and several TV shows that went along the same lines. And much as I travel in tandem to a different pulse of life and in a alternative direction to what he tries to persuade us all of, he’s someone I still find intensely thought provoking and wonderfully helpful in life’s paths.

So when I heard that a conversation card pack had been launched by him, I set my usual scepticism aside and bought it. Normally, I would think such things are a cringeworthy waste of money, that could be spent on asking the same questions, without the cards infront of me. But when a church pastor on Twitter who I respect, said he would happily give every ‘Fresher’ (first year) one of these upon entry to university, my ears pricked up.

All pictures copyright and taken off the website: https://www.theschooloflife.com/shop/eu/100-questions-original-edition/

Sadly in our current age, deep conversations are not always had. In Ireland, perhaps not without a pint or two in one’s hand. In other cultures, perhaps at other times, or in other places. But increasingly, the soundbite, technological world that we live in, darts from trivial topic to the next in a line of banalities, and doesn’t often deepen. If people get too serious, or chat about something for too long, jokes are quickly made, and many turn away from such displays of earnestness or knowledge. Do we perhaps fear those we think have a ‘powerplay’ over us and don’t want to be shown up for what we do not know? Or might it be because knowledge is genuinely used for ill, or in a lacklustre way that sends us yawning and reaching for our drink again? Or have we just lost our wonder and awe at the incredible world around us?

For those who bemoan this current state of society, I do wonder whether there was ever a “golden age” in this regard? The old geographically-limited, (often more conservative) cultures or decades, where people spoke only to their family, neighbours or village each day, did not breed the same diversity or curiosity perhaps as modern-day culture allows for.

Nor do I wish to assume that those who can hold conversation on one topic for a period of time and travel deep into conversation with it, are necessarily better off, morally superior or more gifted than those who cannot. Some cultures go direct into a subject, whereas others circle around it. Many tertiary educated people are taught to think in certain ways, but this should not necessarily exude better things than those who do not learn in such ways.

However, if I look at my life and see no deep relationships where I delve under the surface of the superficial and enjoy the hidden mysteries of people’s character, the vibrant colours of their personality or the reality behind why their hearts beat the rhythms of life which they do, then I must pause a moment. Why is it I don’t ever converse on this level? Could I find more our about myself by doing so? Might I learn how to love others better, or to disagree well with those from diverse backgrounds? Dare I suggest, that I find myself corrected, sharpened, encouraged and changed by similar expressions to me?

And that’s where these cards come in. They’re not cheesey, they ask great questions for the western, individualistic mind, and they could both simultaneously reveal far more about yourself than you’d want to find out, and surprise yourself with the strengths and ways of living that you have been gifted in. It could be a step to becoming self-aware. A step to finding who you are.

Alain chooses 9 topics, which are in my mind, perhaps the top 9 spoken of or dreamt about every day on university campuses. You can see them in the picture above. (Has he missed one? Let me know your thoughts.) And of course, “Travel” is one of those top topics the current generations are buzzing about. Here’s a few of the questions to get your juices flowing:

  • are you more attracted to a nomadic or settled life?
  • if you were in a city and had to choose between a good meal and a bad hotel, or a bad meal and a good hotel – which would you prefer?
  • what makes a person a good travelling companion?
  • would you prefer a view of a desert or of the sea? Why?

I could imagine these cards being used in various ways. Some will use them in a formal classroom setting. Others may bring them out for dinnertime conversation. But many will simply read them, and be provoked to ask better questions, or to steal them for everyday conversation!

Like everything in life, you’ll like some of it, and may not like other bits of it, but perhaps it could even be a springboard to making your own cards too? But be warned, Christian traveller – please do not make these a tool to preach at people. If you make your own cards in order to get “better” questions, please do ask yourself why your worldview or thought-process doesn’t like the questions given. Do you not know how to relate to the questions at hand? Do you not understand why such things could be fascinating or wonderful glimpses of a Christ-centred eternal reality? Are you seeing life through such narrow lenses that you only want to ask a couple of questions to everyone? Perhaps I might dare to suggest that if so, these question cards might teach us more than what you think we have to bring to others.

Disagree? Or curious?

Well perhaps you can ask me more and we can listen to each other well. Let’s travel together and chat, side by side, and see where it takes us.

But regardless, can I ask you whether you’re willing to start to cultivate such deep relationships with diverse people? It’s not easy!

For those who like the look of the cards, they can be bought here.

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