The Politics of Gentleness

A few years ago, some people I knew were setting up a collaborative workspace in London. They asked three of us to spend an evening helping them think about how this space could be and what kind of things might go on there. At some point in the evening, I said, “I’d like it to be a space where people have really great conversations.” At this, a look of horror passed across the face of one of the others. “That’s the last thing we need, another talking shop!”

I found myself remembering that moment when I gave a talk at KonstFack (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) in Stockholm this February. I was speaking as part of a series on ‘Organising Discourse’, and I chose to interpret this as ‘How to bring together conversations’. In particular, I wanted to talk about the difference between conversations that come alive and the kind of experience that people rightly dread as ‘another talking shop’.

There are few things I enjoy more than a good conversation and pretty much all the work I’ve done that has felt worthwhile grew out of conversations. So it feels great to be starting a series of public conversations here in Västerås, my new hometown, and it was particularly good to start this with a visit from Anthony McCann.

As we say at the start of this recording, our friendship began with several months of regular conversations on a Monday morning in our favourite cafe in Sheffield, back in 2006, and in many ways these provided me with a model for the kind of conversation that I’ve looked to bring together in my work ever since.

Compared to a formal talk, a conversation is unstructured and it involves more things that can’t be captured in a recording. There’s an obvious case in the opening minutes here, when the lights in the ABF (Workers Educational Association) foyer where we are sitting unexpectedly dim. For those of you who weren’t with us on Wednesday, perhaps this will act as a reminder of the other less obvious elements that go missing in a recording. But hopefully there is enough here to enjoy some of what we enjoyed together over the couple of hours we all spent together.

Anthony McCann is a social philosopher, a contemplative scholar and the founder of The Hummingbird Workshop for Ordinary Ethics in Belfast.

Check out the Facebook group for news about future Västerås Conversations.

Photograph by Irja Holtter.

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