Social Innovation

Conversations That Matters

Stories are everywhere, and given the chance, what stories do you want to listen to? What stories have you heard today, and what stories have you created today? A story that is worth remembering, and a story that will make a difference.

We’ve heard about a hug can change a life.

And what if, a conversation can change a life?

The idea was borned out of a conversation with a friend. I said we are not having enough conversations. Cat said we are, but people just aren’t listening! Her idea: let’s claim public spaces to have conversations and to listen to conversations of everyday people.

Not long after, Lee told me of a similar project where people held conversations in public spaces and I said, game on, we’re doing it. I sent out an email to 5 of my adventurous friends, and we organised a coffee where we decided on a date and a time.

The week after the coffee, we brought beanbags, camping chairs, a table, tea, coffee, biscuits, some cups and a kettle and claimed a spot on Brisbane Square.

We put up two signs, one said “Free Chats” and the other said, “Feel like doing something random? Come have a chat!” Within minutes, we had two random strangers sitting with us having conversations about their life and as time went on, we had at least 40-50 random strangers ranging from students to tourists, foreigner on a medical visa to a homeless man dropping in, and some stayed for hours.

For the foreigners and for the homeless man, this was some sort of a recognition of their existence. No political drama, no agenda, just people having conversations like all humans should. To connect the dots and brings back the essence of humanity and community. To us, it was stories that we’ve never heard. Genuine, honest accounts of everyday people around us, and experiences that we hear in books and the media.

Quote of the day, for me, came from the homeless man: “Have a chat? What.. have a chat? The only chat I’ve had are people screaming abuse at me”, he said in a cynical voice in his very strong accent. He sat down for about 2 hours and shared with me his experience as a soldier in the Vietnam War which was really eye-opening and saddening all at the same time. This is an Australian who’ve served the country, and now sleeps on the streets in West End, all because of the mental illness he’s suffered after the war and inability to put up with bureaucracy to get aid and the stress of everyday life.

In our daily life, its hard to comprehend how many stories we missed listening to or initiate conversations that have an effect on someone’s life. The quick, “Hey mate, how you going?”, “Good, thanks and yourself?”, “Yeah, alright” has become so much part of a norm we’re losing touch with what humanity means. What, as a society, we stand for.

So, if you’re up for something random, I challenge you to bring some chairs, or picnic rug and some cardboard, claim a public space and listen. Listen to the stories of the people around you, and you will learn about humanity more than you’ll ever have. Sometimes, a person need in their life is to be listened to.

Where to from here? We’re looking at making Free Chats a monthly project, so every end of the month, you’ll find us in the middle of Brisbane, somewhere, having chats with just about anyone and everyone.

  • Brisbaneboy

    What a fantastic idea!

    The Australian National Archives I understand are doing a similar project at the moment where they are recording conversations with Australia's older generation, to capture as much history and stories and 'personality' of the nation as they can. The material is going in to the Australia Archives, and I hope will be accessible to people by going online someday and being able to watch and listen, and see how as a nation we have evolved.

    I think today there can often be a concern that with our online world now, people will send a birthday wish to friends all around the world, but wont knock on their neighbours door and say mery xmas, or happy birthday… we are loosing our direct, personal social interaction – and the skills that come with that. With a generation of parents right now creating cotton-wool kids that arn't allowed to engage with anyone, or interact, i worry about the type of future generations, who are more inclined to interact remotely then in person. Millions of years ago when i was at school we would help out a soup van in the city, and other homeless centres. I think one of the best lessons you learn there is these people do have stories. and they deserve to be heard, and they deserve the right to tell. Certainly more then my story as it exists right now…

    So great idea! love it.

  • Sevapuri

    I am laughing my head off at what a genuine , inspiring, heart opening idea this is. Keep going you are touching humanitys soul

  • http://twitter.com/dougsky Doug Millen

    i love this SO much. i'm going to see if i can get some people together to do this, at uni, on lygon, in the city (melb).

    i've printed this. much talk will be had tomorrow about this.

    conversations are pretty much one of the things i value most in my life – what else do we do with people other than talk with them? a recent great conversation i had was with a woman i met on the train from sydney to melb – she got on halfway, we hit it off and a seven hour, brilliant conversation ensued. then i ran into her yesterday at uni.

    talking about things that matter keeps us so inspired, and is a path to getting great things done. together.

  • ehon

    Doug, awesome! :D Keep me updated on how you go, please! If you need help or anything at all, give me a shout! :)

    Life works in funny ways. Two girls sat down to have a chat, and 20 mins in, they found out that they actually live in the same college in Sydney, and they were both in Brissie on a holidays. They've never spoken to each other, but have heard of each other's name…

  • ehon

    Awesome! :) I am so glad you feel inspired by this!

  • ehon

    Brisbaneboy, spot on especially on the “cotton-wool kids” part! Kids are being monitored and protected to tightly in their social time that its almost impossible for them to have proper conversations. I was talking to a friend about how at schools, the only times kids get to hang around and talk to their mates are during lunches and if they're lucky, before and after schools.

  • Brisbaneboy

    Ehon – exactly. And also i would add – beyond the school yard, they can't interact with anyone from an older generation anymore – not without that person being accused of anything. You can't play in the front yard or chat with someone at the part. We seem to assume the worst in absolutely everyone, and as a result that intergenerational communication skill is being lost.

  • Mike

    I love this idea! I’m on board for any idea that involves getting people to talk face to face, as it seems like something people are increasingly hesitant to do.

    I’m working on a related project here in Oakland, California. I meet with strangers, buy them a cup of coffee, have a chat, and then write about it. You can check it out here:


    I hope you continue with these monthly Free Chats, and I’d love to hear about everything that happens!

  • Jasonleecj

    Great idea, I may wanna start something like that in Tassie!

  • http://mindgarden.me Jen Lee

    I have to do this, this is brilliant. What an inspiration. I have often thought about doing something random like this, this is great, content brought to form. I will send the email off and see what happens… ohhh this is great!