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TECHNOLOGY

Be a generalist, not a specialist

'It will give you broader sensitivities and understanding of others'

By Dr. Theodore Zeldin for CNN

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Zeldin: "Work-life balance is not a solution, because it does not prevent work from continuing to be oppressive."

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(CNN) -- Historian Dr. Theodore Zeldin writes for CNN about his vision for achieving happiness.

How do you create a vision of better ways to love, work, think and grow old? Not one-by-one, each considered separately, nor by self-help. These ambitions can be combined in a new kind of conversation.

Start by having a "conversation dinner" with a stranger, using a "menu" of conversation to make you discuss what is important to you both, and to feel what the other feels.

Repeat this many times with an ever widening range of individuals and you begin to glimpse a purpose in life -- to discover who inhabits the world, and to give each person the knowledge that they are worth listening to.

Write a self-portrait, so that others can know why it is worth talking to you. Love begins with mutual self-revelation.

At work, like most people, you are sometimes a part-time slave, performing boring routines that do not enhance your intellect, talents or compassion.

How can we show businesses that they would be more successful and recruit more enthusiastic staff if they became cultural and intellectual institutions, as well as sources of financial profit?

Virtually all professions are in crisis now, demoralized or losing credibility, but each struggles with its problems alone.

Persuade them to join the new conversation to reinvent work so that it suits more of our present-day aspirations, our desire to be interesting and fulfilled. Work-life balance is not a solution, because it does not prevent work from continuing to be oppressive.

Education -- bachelor, master, doctor -- is organized to make you ever more specialist and often incomprehensible.

Specialization seldom gives wisdom. Join instead the newly invented postgraduate course that uses conversation to make people generalists and not just specialists, giving them broader sensitivities, and an understanding of how different occupations and cultures think.

Participating in the intellectual adventures of other disciplines is a purge for arrogance.

Finally, to prevent depression becoming the epidemic that spoils it all, and the brain going rigid and deteriorating with the years, contribute to the new preventive medicine of conversations that provide mental stimulation from the earliest years right into old age. Sport is not enough to keep you fit.

You are always told to narrow down your ambitions to succeed. But there is no need to exclude yourself from the conversations that are shaping humanity's future.

I urge you to be inspired by many muses, and to make a symphony of their voices.

Dr. Theodore Zeldin is the author of "An Intimate History of Humanity," "The French," and "Conversation." He is also a fellow of St. Antony's College, Oxford and president of The Oxford Museexternal link foundation.

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