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The Art of Being a Couple | Theodore Zeldin | TEDxOxford

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

In this talk Theodore discussses how some couples can have long loving relationships. Dubbed the 'most popular Englishman in France', Oxford based Zeldin is a leading world expert on France and what it means to be French. He is renowned for his studies on happiness, asking pressing questions like 'where can a person look to find more inspiring ways to spend each day?' This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at


ChatGPT Summary ( via tool)

Theodore Zeldin is an explorer and academic who has spent much of his life trying to understand what goes on in other people's heads. He believes that the art of being a couple is one of the biggest problems facing society today, and that it is becoming an increasingly pressing issue as people are living longer and coming from different cultures and backgrounds. Zeldin argues that we have not been taught to communicate with others effectively, and that we often reject what others say if it does not align with our own beliefs. He suggests that we need to train ourselves to listen to others more effectively and to try to understand their perspectives. Zeldin also believes that we should make an effort to talk to complete strangers in order to better understand the experiences and thoughts of others.


Full Transcript (Via Tool)

- ([00:09]( I'm talking about the subject which neither this university nor any other teachers 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 of 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 hundred years now and women are becoming educated and no longer

- ([00:53]( willing to shut up and do what they're told and we've 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 I if you ask me who I am I would say I have become after being an academic and so on and 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 a one of

- ([01:46]( 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 Western 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 listen 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

- ([02:36]( 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 and what people are saying and that means that we have to train ourselves to communicate with

- ([03:29]( 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 have been developing my 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

- ([04:13]( that you cannot have ideas about the future unless you have rich memories you can 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 us this idea that you should concentrate on the memories of your own childhood and I am 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 on memories and discover the

- ([04:58]( 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 come how come when discover this in ordinary pleasant conversation people do not say what they really think in business you've got to conceal as much as to reveal and you 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

- ([05:53]( 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 will say to others and so what I've done is as you may know live in organizing conversations in which I give people a menu which has 25 questions and which gives you subjects to talk about and these are the most difficult subjects that can be thought of know

- ([06:43]( what are what have been your priorities in the past and what could they be in the future now this requires a lot of thinking what you afraid of and this requires a lot of thinking because fear is something that we have been unable to liberate ourselves from but it's all very well for politicians of little theories to say man is born free no no creature is born free from fear and how do you overcome fear I think this is the great challenge which we have and for me the way to overcome fear is to take fear everything one is afraid of

- ([07:33]( into little parts and look at each part separately in the same way as a physicist would take part apart the objects in the universe and look at small things and therefore becoming looking at the world in a microscopic way and in the natural world we have done this we now say this is not a chair this is a made up of electrons and molecules and so on and the same with all the thoughts that other people have and when when looks at people has been made up of a mass of different elements those elements become interesting

- ([08:16]( instead of being a menace and so I put people why I invite people I invite you to come and meet and I'd say do you know this person no all right here's your partner for the next two hours and here are things to talk about and it is amazing the reactions I've had from this and people say they are hungry for proper conversation about a serious subject and the pub is no good because not all the inquiries about pubs people say that in punchy talk about nothing in particular and ready to talk in private

- ([08:55]( to your partner most openly but even there it's difficult and I recall doing this uh done this with organisations companies universities homeless people every sort and I remember once doing it with the police and the police invited all their members and their leaders of the community and the Chief Inspector of Stephens superintendent the police said at the end of it that he talked to somebody who he'd known for 20 years because they worked in the same office in the same place and in these two hours he learned more about him and he learnt

- ([09:40]( in in other words we're moving around in a world we don't know and that is why for me the if I ask myself you know what is the purpose of life you know this impossible question but I've conclude for me it is to discover the world and to discover what it is that I can give the world which it doesn't have doesn't have already and in order to discover the world I need to talk to as many people as possible and I need to see as many as possible and I have been doing this and as I say with that were the

- ([10:19]( past as well as the present in order to see that we do not devote our lives to just to repeating the mistakes of the past and what is the biggest mistake the biggest mistake is that we have now reached the stage where work no longer sutures were become educated we have greater ambitions to see the world and to discover what life is about and work is becoming more stressful and many's I think almost most occupations are in crisis and they don't know what to do with themselves and people aren't willing to work harder and harder the

- ([11:08]( more you climb up the more you work and therefore my ambition is don't see how we can invent new kinds of work and this is not a bad idea because every time the world's population has exploded we have invented humans have invented a new kind of work they invented agriculture they've invented industry when there are too many people in agriculture they invented the service society invented public employment and now we have to invent a new kind of work for the billion people who are coming into the

- ([11:46]( world and who either don't have jobs or don't have jobs we could use all their talents and give them everything they would like in order to become fully alive instead of 20% alive 50% alive and I've been doing this by having experiments I explore I go into a super market and I say let us turn this supermarket into a cultural center let us introduce and I've done this say let us give lessons to music lessons to children who come shopping following their parents let us give English lessons to migrants who can't speak the

- ([12:28]( language letters have conversations among the customers we never speak to each other and I go into I babble I get invited to places like insurance companies the last place you think that anything can be changed and I want to say that insurance is about fear now how can we have swayed your affairs and how could we can we increase your fears so that you ensure with more and more things and what people really want from insurance is opportunity and all the people who insure themselves have got things they have got to say I have things they have

- ([13:08]( said which they could give to young people and so I'm talking about opportunity insurance rather than catastrophe insurance and I've been into hotel chains and in hotels women who come those chambermaids are often from other countries they want to learn the language why can't a hotel be a place which is also a language school why can't it enable it's it's good customers its clients to meet people in the city instead of just watching CNN on their telly there are all sorts of changes which are

- ([13:45]( possible to invent in the way we work and this is what I would like people to collaborate with us and see whether in their particular employment there is a little part which can be devoted to research development of how work can be made to suit us rather than to suit industrial purposes this I think is the big challenge and revolution we can imagine in the next 50 years and it's one which we can stimulate because young people aren't going to be increasingly reluctant to work for jobs which not appealing and that this is an

- ([14:37]( alternative to talking about the alternative life instead of going to the Hebrides and living as one did in the tenth century this is an opportunity to try something out and fail and die and Wednesday talk to myself and explore ideas I insist that we can't expect experiments to succeed when this electric like was invented it took thousands of failed experiments before we invented electricity why are we not inventing things and being and accepting that they will fail and so the what I want to do now is to invite everybody to

- ([15:25]( not only to talk to someone else but also to write a little passport showing what they want other people to understand about them I am believe that very few people in fact almost nobody feels they're properly understood and it is very difficult even to understand oneself and at present the great you're being urged always to do it to know yourself I think it's impossible to know oneself I think this much more interesting to know others I'm quite bored to know who I am and I don't know who I am and knowing others is what life

- ([16:08]( is about and I see us doing in effect what something like what William the Conqueror did when he came into England he said let us know who owns the land in England because land was anything that mattered in those days and I would say we need a new Doomsday Book now who is it to inhabit the world tell me who you are and we can only tell it in interaction in conversations and we will record what you say and we will put it up if you like anonymously but in order because the one thing that you have is a personal experience you can see the

- ([16:48]( world as no one else does and what I see is not what you see and it is by the conjunction of all what each one see that one can discover something like the truth so this is how I see what I'm how I would like to spend my life discovering the world and then seeing what I can offer and I would like to know what you think and it is my belief that there's no good me having a desire if all of you don't want to do this and if you find there also obstacles but we can try and if you will now tell me what

- ([17:30]( you think that would be interesting thank you


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