When you think about the future, both individually and as a species, are you hopeful? Certainly, that answer varies depending on whether you’re more of a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type of person. If I consider a typical week, there are many instances I can think of that could easily trigger a negative outlook of the future. The Long Conversation 2018, held at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building on Dec. 7 from 2:00 to 10:00 p.m., was a series of sessions featuring 31 speakers throughout the day for an 8-hour conversation full of inspiration for the future.
On a daily basis we are bombarded with alerts about the latest groundbreaking news—typically focused on what’s wrong in the world: social injustices, drama, gossip, loss, etc., undoubtedly impacting our perception of the world and how positive our outlook might be towards the future. If you were one of the 1,200 people who attended The Long Conversation 2018, you may have walked away with a new belief that hope is a conscious choice, one we must make every day.
The concept of The Long Conversation was one we ought to see more of in this age of technology: two people sitting down and talking face-to-face about what makes them tick, about what concerns them, and about what they’re hopeful for. As Rachel Goslins, Director of the Arts & Industries Building, put it, “[We] tried to create the coolest dinner party in the world and invite [you] to eavesdrop on those conversations.” That is precisely what this experience was. It was captivating, informative, humorous at times, and touchy at other times, but you wanted to stay and listen nonetheless.
Goslins explains, “We started The Long Conversation in 2017 because we wanted to do something new and different. It’s proved wildly popular, even beyond what we expected. We bring together big thinkers from completely different backgrounds, and there are no moderators or PowerPoints. You walk away feeling a direct connection to amazing ideas. When you have so much optimism and energy in one room—with the audience, the speakers, the people tuning in online, something electric happens. In many ways it’s a microcosm of the Arts & Industries Building itself, its remarkable history, and its future as a space for creativity, experimentation, and forward-thinking.”
The Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building, the Smithsonian’s first building, was the perfect venue to host this uplifting event. According to Washington Post writer Peggy McGlone, when the Castle was completed in 1855 it was a physical representation of the broad range of its activities: hands-on learning, museum conservation, art and science exhibits and educational seminars. Jump ahead 163 years, while hosting The Long Conversation 2018, and it is still serving the same purpose. The Castle is a gem of Southwest; one many people often overlook.
What the Long Conversation offered was the opportunity to join conversations involving people very different from one another. The magic that occurs when we engage in dialogue with people different from ourselves is the ability to get a glimpse of how someone else views the world, and to understand the world on a much larger scale than the tiny bubbles we each live in.
It is easy to imagine all the things that could go wrong in our respective lives on a daily basis. However, we must acknowledge that we learn from the parts of the story we choose to focus on. If day-in-and-day-out we are solely focused on all the possible bad in the world, which there are ample amounts of, then we are limiting the amount of good we allow ourselves to see in the world.
The event featured many captivating speakers. One was Jon Grinspan, the historian, who explained that at The Smithsonian, they study the past while preparing the future to study us. Another was Hawah Kasat, the educator with many additional titles, who believes in human ingenuity and that we are a remarkably resilient species. Or there was C. Brian Williams, the artist who believes the arts should be used as a platform to bring cultures together. What all the speakers at the event have in common is the ability to see the bigger picture—the ability to acknowledge societal downfalls and shortcomings while still possessing hope for the future.
Some days it may be hard to be hopeful about the future of our country, or the world as a whole. However, The Long Conversation 2018 taught us that even if our daily encounters make it challenging to find hope regarding the future, that doesn’t mean we should fear the future. Let’s keep the conversation going; put the phones down, engage in conversation, and figure out what it is that makes you tick and what gives you a glimmer of hope towards the future. By engaging in these conversations, it helps us imagine not what can go wrong in the world, but rather what can go right.
By Joanna Levine