June 15, 2013

Conversation Dinner

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Societal Issues Targeted:

  • Removing the perceived separators between us which are based on demographic (fictitious and frivolous) differences 
  • Uniting people in acceptance and understanding by exposing our human similarities

If you want to run one a Discussion Dinner or Picnic, please contact us. Theodore and the Oxford Muse own The Menu for Conversation, so we may not be able to use the same questions every time, but we are working with philosophers in our community on a series of questions which is also designed to expose the core similarities of the collective human experience, and open them up for discussion


The Project: We put on this event in collaboration with renowned philosopher Theodore Zeldin and John Reed from The Oxford Muse. Supported and funded by our friend and collaborator Finbar Mostyn-Williams

Let’s engage our imaginations for a second; 1st we will be dressing a 4 year old up in a leather jacket, giving him/her fake nose rings, tattoo’s and a huge green and red mohawk. now if we take another and dress him/her up as a ballerina in pink with frilly bit’s all over their costume and give them a star shaped wand. next imagine them meeting for the 1st time in a playground at a park. do you think they will play with each other? now if we imagine a little old lady meeting a teenage skateboarder in the same park, would they interact in a positive way? i think you’ll agree the chances are much, much less.


..So the question here is when do we learn not to talk to those that appear different from us? why? and can we change it?

In our quest to build connection we stumbled across Theodore Zeldin’s Menu for Conversation; a project perfect for connecting people who normally wouldn’t interact with each other in their daily life’s. the project is designed to send a clear message to the vast majority of us who have become separated and distanced from each other by the paths we have chosen in life and overcome superficial barriers we’ve come to see before and instead we see the human being behind these barriers.

cross keys 4We agreed to host our ‘Conversation Dinner’ with a well meaning group of squatters residing in The Cross Keys Pub, the oldest (and fanciest) pub, in the heart of Chelsea (London’s wealthiest area) and were actively seeking to connect with the well to-do local residents to let them know they were a friendly group, taking good care of the property and they just needed a roof over their heads for a while. The squatters had a wide mix of backgrounds and reasons for being there; some students who simply couldn’t afford London’s super-inflated rent prices, some long-term homeless, some travellers just passing through London and others just down on their luck and needing a place to stay while they looked for work.

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(incidentally the locals were campaigning to save the pub from an unscrupulous property developer – savethecrosskeys)

Modern marketing is tells people that they belong to a group, and that group is different and special, so they need to buy that product to show that they belong. We hosted a few powerful workshops with renowned philosopher Theodore Zeldin and the Oxford Muse, where we bring together people from very different walks of life and we ask them to pair up with someone who looks like they have very little in common with to discuss questions from a ‘Menu of Conversation’. The questions are designed to strip away the influences of the world and expose a truth that has become clouded to too many of us – that deep inside we are all just human beings, struggling to understand the world around us and facing the same challenges and deeply basic questions in our lives, such as how to live happily, finding fulfillment and meaning in our lives.

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We set up the food in the kitchen of the pub with the help of the squatters and had invited a few Focallocalites, Social Entrepreneurs from our network at Hub Westminster and we had been door to door in Chelsea inviting people to join us to expand the backgrounds present at the meal. The conversations i had on the door steps of the well off living in the swanky houses in Chelsea were surprisingly eye opening as time and time again I kept hearing the same theme repeated. After explaining the purpose of the dinner residents would told me that this type of thing was ‘exactly’ what the community in Chelsea needed because there was little to no feeling of community where they lived, and most barely knew their neighbours. Thus i came to see that the ‘winners’ in our current society appeared to be living in significantly more isolation than most ..a very strange definition of ‘success’ to me at least (and needless to say i have no ambition to live in Chelsea now).

cross keys 2On the day, unfortunately not too many locals turned up – perhaps we needed more legitimate, professional looking advertisement to break into that safe and secure, isolated and cold bubble – but regardless the 40 or so attendee’s had some extremely beautiful and moving conversations over the next few hours over a meal cooked by our lovely squatting hosts; it is truly a remarkable experience to realise how similar someone ..everyone is to you when it comes to the really important questions and worries in life.
i most certainly hope to put more similar events on soon in collaboration with the Oxford Muse, Theodore Zeldin, John Reed and Finbar Mostyn-Williams, and with our lovely hosts for the afternoon.

Article written by:
Andy at Focallocal

Also published on Medium.

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