Full text of Oxford scholar Theodore Zeldin’s talk titled “The Art of Being a Couple” at TEDxOxford conference. In this talk, Theodore discussses how some couples can have long loving relationships.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Theodore Zeldin – Oxford scholar and thinker
I am talking about the subject which neither this university nor any other teaches: The Art of Being A Couple. Because it is one of those subjects which, to which there’s no easy answer, and no formula. And therefore, I am not going to tell you a quick solution to the problems in your life.
But I want to take this, because it is one of the biggest problems of all, and it’s going to get a bigger… becoming a bigger problem, because we are going to live for 90 years or 100 years now. And women are becoming educated and no longer willing to shut up and do what they’re told.
And we’re faced by people from many different countries and civilizations, and everything is changing. And so, I would like to just suggest, what I am trying to do, which is not to provide an answer, but to explore.
And if you ask me who I am, I would say I have become… I have… being an academic and so on, an explorer… an explorer of what we can do, which we have not yet done. And let me give you a way of starting this.
I had a conversation once with one of the senior ayatollahs of Iran. And for an hour, he was furious with me, and he shouted and said, how angry he was with the Americans and with the British and with the West, and how they didn’t… were insulting him and so on.
And then after now, suddenly, his anger vanished. And he smiled. And he hugged me. And he said, I want to come again.
And I said, why?
And he said, because you listened to me.
And the question is, do we listen to each other? And I think we have never been taught to talk to each other. Because in the past, we were taught rhetoric, which was how to persuade other people to do what we wanted, and how to talk beautifully and conventionally.
But now, we have to know not only how to listen to others, but also to fight the obstacle which our human nature places in the way of understanding what others say, because when I listen to someone, my brain immediately rejects everything which seems irrelevant, and only absorbs what I agree with.
And it requires great effort to find meaning in what people are saying, and that means that we have to train ourselves to communicate with others in ways which we have not been accustomed to. Because in the past, the important thing in a conversation was to say what people expected you to say, not to offend them, and so on.
And I’ve been devoting most of my life, just to listening to people, and listening not only to the living, but also to the dead. Because one of the snags of being a modern person is a modern person is supposed to forget the past, and think only how one can improve on the past.
But the very latest scientific work on the memory reveals that you cannot have ideas about the future unless you have rich memories. Your memories… the extent of your memories determines how much you can imagine about the future.
And if you get dementia, or you lose your memory, you can’t think about the future. But the 20th century has bequeathed to us this idea that you should concentrate on the memories of your own childhood. And I feel that if we want to know about the future, if we want to have an idea of what we would like in the future, we need to expand our memories and discover the memories of others.
And so, I spend my time discovering what people have in their heads. And the great mystery of our time for me, is what goes on in other people’s heads? And how can one discover this?
In ordinary lesson conversation, people do not say what they really think; in business, you’ve got to conceal as much as to reveal. And you’ve got to keep up your reputation. And it is particularly difficult that men do not seem to be able to talk very well with women.
And women are constantly complaining that there are subjects men don’t listen. And so, we have to reinvent the way we talk, and instead of talking to just the people who are around us, I think the first introduction to it is to talk to complete strangers, because with complete strangers, one can in fact, say things which one wouldn’t say to others.