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QUESTION TIME – Michael Hayman for Country & Town House

Podcast host Michael Hayman recollects the conversations that have made him stop and think.

This piece originally appeared in Country & Town House September/October 2021.

‘Does anyone have any questions for my answers?’ These are the words often attributed to the legendary US diplomat Henry Kissinger who once famously opened a White House press conference thus.

Think about it for a moment. Whatever you ask, I have a message and I am going to say it. For decades this style of message control has been the playbook for the powerful and to my mind there are a lot of problems with it, especially now.

First and foremost because the many challenges facing the world demand that we think about what it is that we are being asked and that we respond with authentic answers, not oft-repeated messages.

The art of the question – you know the one, the one that gets you to sit up and think, drop the stump speech and provide an answer that really matters to you. It’s been a quest for me to help make this happen in a course of interviews with an incredible cast of characters.

“To paraphrase, interviews are like a box of chocolates; you never know how you’re going to feel about who you meet or what you might learn from them.”

It’s the podcast I present, and it’s called Change Makers. Think The Canterbury Tales for a digital age. Then: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Now: the campaigners, the creators, the connectors and contrarians. Fresh ideas and inspirational life stories from people making a difference, a tapestry of tales of our time and stories to inspire.

It is a collection of conversations that seeks to capture something of the radically diverse conditions in which we live today – from activists seeking social justice to climate campaigners, inspiring entrepreneurs and Nobel laureates. The result is a platform for people with a passion to delve into what makes them tick and the joy, difference and contribution this empowers them to bring to the world.

One of the things I love about the conversations is challenging my own pre-conceived perceptions. To paraphrase, interviews are like a box of chocolates; you never know how you’re going to feel about who you meet or what you might learn from them.

The unexpected turns are those that keep you thinking on your feet. As the interviewer you need to follow the answer, wherever that might take you.

One enduring trait I have learned along the trail is that good change comes from caring about things. Kindness is often the superpower that gets things done. It’s the fuel for positivity and it powers resilience.

Take the fashion model and climate activist Arizona Muse whose love for the planet leads her to deliver this call to action: ‘This season’s must-have is the continuation of life on earth.’ And, critically, ‘Let’s enjoy doing it, enjoy our lives and enjoy our connection with the world.’

2021_CM_Ariona Muse_Twitter post2

I didn’t have to travel a long way to understand that adventurer Charley Boorman’s road trip for life rests on the premise that if you say you’re going to do something then do it because you will be much happier. For screenwriter and actor Mark Gatiss his call-out is that while ‘history is a burden, stories can make us fly’. These were words he wrote for Doctor Who, but they also speak to a truth about the world and how we see it.

2021_CM_Charley Boorman Twitter

Immersive, performative and creative, designer Edeline Lee is the antithesis of what she calls a ‘culture of consumerism’ that tries to ‘fill the never-ending hole’, making us ‘insecure’ and ‘disempowered’. From Edeline, I learned that a search for meaning fuels her career in fashion, while legendary children’s author Sir Michael Morpurgo is fuelled by love, hope and wonder; can we look on the bright side of life to help us understand the world, even in the most testing of times?

Sheree Atcheson’s message was this: ‘Demand more’. An incredible activist, adopted as a baby in Sri Lanka, the diversity and inclusion leader is defying traditional barriers for both women and ethnic minorities in tech so that she can make change happen. And how do you deal with a bully without becoming a thug? A different question posed by three- time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Scilla Elworthy, when she made the case for peaceful change which, for her, starts with taking the time to breathe and make sure you listen.

Sheree social post

On the world stage, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered advice on how to overcome the most pressing problems we face. While the Greek-Australian economist and firebrand Yanis Varoufakis, instead of a conversation about certainty spoke of the denouement of doubt.

It all leaves me wondering how people will look back at this age; the age of the lockdown. Did we learn the lessons and reset our lives and rethink the way we show respect for the world? Or did we miss the opportunities that change presents?

One thing is for certain: we will need ever better answers for a world full of questions waiting to be asked.

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