Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Art of Conversation and Eating

On the 5th of December a different sort of Williams Project happened. Instead of having an invited speaker come to talk to us we just had each other to talk to over a meal.

The premise of this particular Williams Project was to get us talking to each other. However, instead of the usual dinner table small talk, we were going to have more meaty conversation.

This is based on Alain de Botton’s (a Swiss-born British author and philosopher) ideas about the art of conversation. He believes that most people are very bad at having conversations because we think knowing how to talk to each other is a skill we’re born with instead of a learned art. He also states that most conversations are rather stale and that shyness is one of the main reasons that they can be boring. We need rules to give direction to where our conversation is going so that we feel like we’re coming away with new ideas. Alain mentions Madame Sophie de Condorcet who wrote a certain set of rules to enable a successful conversation so it is not just small talk. She believed that guests had to arrive with prepared conversational topics so that they could use each other like reference books in a library.

After we watched and listened to the short PowerPoint we then (based on Madame Sophie de Condorcet’s idea) wrote down two questions that we would bring to the meal to talk about. Everyone took turns asking their questions and people gave insightful answers on topics that would normally never be discussed at a dinner table. Some of the questions posed at my table where: “Why is Brexit happening?” and “Is it right for parents to punish their children if what they did was due to their hormonal changes?” Unlike most conversations we felt that we were taking something out of our exchanges and maybe things to think about later. I think the method and rules of conversation worked very well as it gave us an insight into each other’s personality. I will definitely want to try these rules out in the future and maybe school dinner chats will be a bit more lively!

Samuel Nokes

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