Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Six People from History to invite to a Party

I had a call yesterday evening from the BBC asking me if I'd do a radio interview. The subject? The six people from history (or the present day) I would invite to a dinner party.

One approach would be to use the opportunity to have time with a loved one who has died. I could ask for my dear father to be at the table, and choose five Trappist monks to be the other guests. I wouldn’t want them interrupting the conversation. However, that didn't seem to be the sort of thing they were looking for.
Another approach would be to invite their Holinesses, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Krishna and Baha'u'llah. I have no doubt that they would have the most wonderful time together and be in complete agreement - whatever arguments people of different religions may have had over the millennia! But again, that might not be what the BBC were looking for.
So, playing the game, looking for a balanced dinner party and (assuming we have translation) hoping for some interesting conversations, my guest list is as follows:

Cicero. The Roman orator. Although he was a politician and a lawyer, I think we are far enough away in time from his politics to cause any real friction in the room. And he could surely tell us some stories. He seems to me to have been a man who enjoyed diverse company, was a good observer of people and had a ready wit.

Jane Austen. Another great observer of people and the human condition. Though she saw people's limitations, I think her eye rested kindly on them. She and Cicero would surely laugh together as they talked about people they had known.

Professor Richard Feynman. One of the greatest minds of the last century, Nobel laureate, much loved teacher and Renaissance man. Not only could he turn his mind to science, art and music, he also had an eye for a joke. Very often a practical joke. As with all my guests, he loved people.

Rosa Parks. American civil rights activist. Her decision to break the law by not relinquishing her bus seat to a white person was the act of bravery that began a process that would change the law. She seems to me to have been a person of great dignity. I think her presence would elevate the conversation at the party. Cicero would be fascinated by her story.

Haji Mirza Hayder Ali. A nineteenth century Persian. An early member of the Baha'i Faith. From his autobiography you get a clear feeling of his radiant personality. He suffered ferocious persecution because of his religious beliefs. But through it all he maintained the same gentle good humour. He'd be sad to learn that the Baha'is in Iran are still suffering persecution, but happy that so many governments and individuals are now speaking out in their defence.
For my final guest, I wanted another woman – to balance the table. Marylyn Monroe, I thought. Or perhaps Scarlet Johansen. I couldn't decide, so I asked my wife for advice. She said: "Take me, of course." So there we have it. How could I refuse? Sorry about that Scarlet.

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