Theodore Zeldin, Oxford historian, wrote the following as a contribution to the art installation, Writing the borders, the Bridge of Europe, Strasbourg.
How shall I know that we have something to say to each other, that we ought to meet? How can I guess that you too believe that humanity’s most memorable achievements in extending knowledge or creating beauty have been the result of meetings between people and ideas that have not met before?
How shall I know that you wish to go beyond the language of politeness, beyond repeating what you have said before? How will you reveal that it is not mere information that you would be willing to exchange, but questions, doubts and dreams, the dreams which refuse to die?
How shall I know that, just as this garden is a work of art made out of plants whose history began in distant continents, you too are trying to shape your life into a work of art, however modest? How will you tell me that you welcome into the garden of your mind everything that civilisations all over the world have discovered about wisdom and folly?
How shall I know that busy and stressed though you are, you do sometimes find the time to pause and think, to ask whether they world has to be the way it is?
How shall I know that, just this bridge was built by people who wished to stop ancient enemies hating and fighting each other, you find it rewarding to be a bridge yourself, between individuals who fail to recognise what they have in common, and what they could do better together than alone?
How shall I know that you do not judge people by their religion, or even by their beliefs, and that you are much more impressed by how they put their beliefs into practice, whether with dogmatism, or humility, or compassion?
How shall I know that you applaud people not for their victories over others, but for the thought they have given to their failures, for the courage with which they handle their disappointments, for their ability to continue to laugh and hope?
How shall I know that you are not a prisoner of the prejudice which separates people of different sex and age? Or that you are more interested by what a person’s appearance conceals than the first impression it creates?
My answer. We can only discover who we are, and what we would like to be, by having conversations with one another. There are so many possible links between us, and we have to search behind the fashions and facades for them. That is why I rejoice that this garden has been created as a place, I hope, where people will meet to start long conversations, not just to pass the time, but to become clearer about what matters most to them, and what they can achieve together.
What is your answer?