Theodore Zeldin's 'Oxford Muse' program encourages deep, in-person, one-on-one conversations that promote understanding. Some participants call it 'liberating.'
Twenty-first century humanity has mapped oceans and mountains, visited the moon, and surveyed the planets. But for all the progress, people still don't know one another very well.
That's the premise of Theodore Zeldin's "feast of conversations" – events where individuals pair with persons they don't know for three hours of guided talk designed to get past "Where are you from?"
Mr. Zeldin, an Oxford University dean emeritus who veered into the history of relationships, heads Oxford Muse, a 10-year-old foundation based on the idea that what people need is not more information, but more inspiration and encouragement.
Earlier this month at the View Tube cafe on the site of the London 2012 Olympics, Zeldin oversaw 200 Londoners who "organically" paired up and spoke tête-à-tête. An actual dinner was served. But the real meat was on a "menu of conversation" with topics like, "How have your priorities changed over the years?" Or, "What have you rebelled against in the past?" And "what are the limits of your compassion?"
Ten years ago, Zeldin decided that were he living in the 16th century, he'd want to explore America. If he were in the 20th century, it would be the solar system. Today, the frontier is man.