You really can get used to anything.

On the day of that political game-show called the Budget (#Budget2017) I tried to remember the last time I had seen or read a political interview where a good question was asked, and a true (even true-ish?) answer received. Tricky.

And when did such an exchange last take place at work?

It happens so easily, this gradual accustomisation to not expecting the truth.  (Already #altfacts is casually part of everyday conversation).  So huge respect to those who find imaginative ways to refresh the art of asking questions, to help us get at least a little closer to the truth.

Matthew Whittet’s play ‘17’ (first performed Sydney 2015) is to have its UK premiere at The Lyric Hammersmith.   A group of 17 year olds are just at that turning point, that cusp of adulthood, between school and grown up life.  The creative twist is that the actors are veterans. Septuagenarians.

Suddenly, the questions the playwrite asks and imagines about being 17 (What matters to you right now? What does love mean to you? What message would you send out to the rest of the world?) demand a real and truthful answer.  The cast of 70 year olds has had to really excavate, be super-truthful, to fulfil their roles.

The different lens of their age and life experience refreshes the questions, and the truthfulness of the answers.

And then there are…. better questions.

Theodore Zeldin published ‘Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives’ in 1998. His ‘Conversation menus’ have since been explored and used around the world and across cultures. Some of the questions are hugely serious, some lighter, but all provocative.  The most productive over the years seems to be this question:

“Which of your fears have changed, and which fear do you notice most in others?”

Perhaps the fear of a good question, and of answering truthfully?


Well here’s a thing.

While consulting a book about something else entirely, I chanced this week upon a little contribution from Theodore Zeldin (of power of creative conversation fame, ‘Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives’ published in 2000 ) about ‘humour’ and ‘anxiety’.

It turns out that humour and anxiety are closer than you think.

Once upon a time they both meant nearly the same thing: an imbalance.

And this snippet of wisdom appeared just as I was wondering about two little happenings.

Happening 1. Last weekend was filled with Shakespearean celebrations. London’s South Bank saw The Globe Theatre’s amazing series of 37 films – 10 minute essences of each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays – between Tower Bridge and Westminster .

And in front of ‘Hamlet’ I heard something of the conversation between two members of the audience. An elderly gentleman (of London, not Verona) was quietly recalling to his companion how he had once appeared, in his younger days, in a production of Hamlet. It was a young audience, and he remembered now that the sad Ophelia scene, beautifully performed, provoked … ….nervous laughter. And he had always wondered why.

Happening 2. To a team workshop, with a lovely team. But a team with a badly kept secret: the covering up of a longstanding and unspoken frustration that was inhibiting a conversation that really, really neede to happen. In a spirit of – frankly – desperation, I steered us towards some future story stuff. Amongst other things, we played around gently and not-seriously with ‘being’ different people and different roles. When … boom. We all stopped to watch and listen. The very pair with ‘the issue’ were conducting their conversation as comedians. I can report that starting a complaint with ‘I say, I say, I say’ is a near magical thing. We were all torn between gasps (of anxiety) and howls (of laughter). It really worked. The anxiety from the anxiety-making thing was handled as laughter from the laughter–making thing. Genius.

So thank you Theodore for that insight.

A bit of googling later turned up this thought, which I now think might be rather profound:

‘Laughter is the shortest distance between two people’ – Victor Borge.