6 March 2019

Could you start a real conversation with a perfect stranger?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Two best friends having a good time at the bar

Could you bypass the everyday and talk deeply with a stranger?

Striking up a conversation with a random stranger is a nightmare scenario for some people, while others bemoan the lack of meaningful interaction in our emoji-riddled, digitally obsessed world of short cuts and surface connections.

But would you be brave enough to sign up for a deep conversation with someone you’ve never met? That’s the plan for Feast of Strangers, an event that’s part of the Enlighten Festival this Friday and brings a different dimension to the notion of enlightenment.

It’s a little like blind dating for the mind, minus the sexy bits (although who knows what will light your fire?). The events “pair two strangers together for sincere, rewarding exchanges that probe beyond small talk”, according to Gina Zheng from Global Shapers Canberra, who are organising the event.

Each person is given a menu of conversation but instead of descriptions of food, headings contain topics to talk about. Expect to go well beyond the weather and what you do at work: the point of this is to bypass the small talk and make a deeper connection.

So you’re more likely to discuss what the world needs to make it a better place and how you could contribute, what you’ve found helpful to guide you through difficult times and when or where you’ve felt most fulfilled.

It’s based on an original idea by Oxford scholar Theodore Zeldin, whose life’s work has centred around the search for answers to three questions: Where can a person look to find more inspiring ways of spending each day and each year? What ambitions remain unexplored, beyond happiness, prosperity, faith, love, technology or therapy? What role could there be for individuals with independent minds, or who feel isolated or different, or misfits?

Zeldin theorises that moving past the everyday in conversation means that when two people talk with honesty and mutual understanding, they create equality more effectively than any law could mandate. These ‘structured conversations’ put his ideas into practice in corporations, public services, universities and organisations around the world.

The Oxford Muse Foundation, which promotes Zeldin’s ideas, has organised conversations at gatherings as diverse as the World Economic Forum at Davos and the Olympic Games.

The Canberra event is being organised by the local hub of Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum that draws together young Canberrans from all walks of life with a demonstrated commitment to improving our communities.

The event is free and is being held at the bottom level of the National Library. There are two sessions: one starting at 7 pm, and one starting at 8:30 pm. For more information, visit the National Library website.

You can find out more about the Global Shapers and their Canberra hub here: https://www.globalshapers.org

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