Interview with Robert Davies, founder of UNA Exchange, conducted on Friday 18th October 2019 at the Temple of Peace and Health by Hélène Chaland (volunteer at UNA Exchange for the year 2019/2020) using the Proust Questionnaire.
__1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Well, I have a certain philosophy of life. Was it Descartes who said “I think, therefore I am”? That is the only thing I can be sure of – I know when I feel happy, I know when I feel I’m in pain, and the only real thing is to want happiness not pain for other people. That’s the only thing that makes sense in my life. And the more we can have of that -happiness in the world- the better it would be.
“Following on from that, I think the greatest dilemma human beings have as a species is conflict.”
The fact that they can’t always get along happily together, and they can’t always cooperate, for some strange reason. So we have a long way to go, as Darwin might have said, in our human evolution, so we can understand and be really helpful and know how other people feel and be sympathetic to them. And that, of course, is the root of war, which is the greatest thing we face, despite all the emphasis nowadays on certain other things, whether it be Brexit or the environment. War is the most terrible thing, whether it’s on a small scale or a large scale. And of course, in my life term, I am touched by two great World Wars. My father served in the military in the First World War, and was too old in the second, but he came to Cardiff with my mother and myself to find employment at the beginning of the Second World War, so I was a child of social deprivation and poverty, and a child of the Second World War. Those are my earliest memories, and I suppose things like that have influenced the rest of my life.
__2.__What is your greatest fear?
I suppose it’s a selfish one, really. It couples with reassurance when I meet younger people like yourselves [French volunteers at UNA Exchange Hélène and Loeiza]. The selfish one being that I can’t go on forever, doing and helping this kind of thing. So that is a kind of animalistic kind of fear, the fear of mortality. So I have done my best to try and put things on paper that I hope will continue to encourage people.
__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? // __4. __ What is the trait you most deplore in others?
I suppose selfishness, the very point I was making before. It’s a strange thing though, people who are selfish don’t realise by being unselfish and forgetting themselves that they will find greater happiness.
“Being with other people and relationships with other people is the most important thing in life.”
There’s a thing I did a few years ago for the anniversary of voluntary service called “Rich and Poor”. When people hear that phrase, they think of richness in terms of money, and they think of poverty as lack of money, material things, but unfortunately the very point of that little talk was missed at the end – the sound disappeared. The end bit was my experience of working with a volunteer who had patience with an elderly person, and it was the richness of that human relationship which really mattered.
__5.__Which living person do you most admire?
Ingegerd sitting next to you [his wife]. I do admire her, and I admire how she’s putting up with these visits that I made to Wales and meeting all of these people. Of course, you’ve got to admit that they’re becoming friends of yours too.
__6.__What is your greatest extravagance?
I suppose buying an electrical bicycle instead of having an ordinary pushing pedal bicycle.
__7.__What is your current state of mind?
At this very moment? Extremely happy to be meeting people like you.
“[There is] nothing like volunteering, you know – doing things because you want to do it – and if you do anything because you really want to do it and you’re happy, you do it really well.”
__8.__What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
[Having] money – if it is a virtue. I don’t know, some people think it is.
__9.__On what occasion do you lie?
In the old days, women always wore hats. “Do you like my hat?” And I would say “Of course, it’s beautiful!”
__10.__What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I have put up with it for a long time, I can’t think of anything!
__11.__Which living person do you most despise?
I don’t think I can use that word “despise” about anyone in view of my earlier remark. I mean, I dislike what people do, not people as in themselves, and
“sometimes we should be sympathetic when people make mistakes”
or do what most of us would regard as bad things. I think it’s too negative to say you despise someone.
__12.__What is the quality you most like in a man? // What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Most of the people I have admired are in fact women in terms of social, community and international idealism, and I think you would probably find out, I don’t know if you have done any statistical research, it is mostly women. So I admire women very much for that sensitivity and kindness in the female nature. With regard to men I think what I would admire, and I try to follow it myself, is the persistence – not giving up too easily when things are difficult.
__14.__Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Wonderful”. When I came in this morning I said “Oh you wonderful people!” -, and you are wonderful people!
__15.__What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Ingegerd, of course, what do you expect me to say! I suppose in a non-human sense, the kind of thing we were talking about. I think it is what inspire me and others to try to make a better world. That’s what we should try to do.
__16.__When and where were you happiest?
I can remember vividly one occasion, on my own, up in West Wales, where through work camping techniques we established a camping centre for young people, where we had holiday homes and schemes for poor children and being there entirely on my own for the weekend. This place in English is called Big Black Valley – Cwm Mawr Du – where we had a camp developed from an old ruined chapel, and I was there entirely on my own thinking “this is the life, this is wonderful”. There have been other occasions obviously but I do recall that.
__17.__Which talent would you most like to have?
Being able to stop talking and give other people a chance!
__18.__If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Having more patience/tolerance, I’m always in too much of a hurry.
__19.__What do you consider your greatest achievement?
__20.__If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I planted a tree in the Garden of peace some years ago. I had an uncle, who was a farmer, who advised me on the type of tree, a special kind of Chestnut tree, dedicated to the civilian victims of war. Perhaps I would like to be that tree.
__21.__Where would you most like to live?
If it weren’t for where I am now, [I would live in] Cardiff.
__22.__What is your most treasured possession?
“I’ve got lots of treasured possessions, most of them are things like letters from people that I’ve kept.”
[To his wife] You want me to throw them away, don’t you? I try to put them into a sort of compilation called “the Human Squirrel”, because in British folklore you squirrel something away, you collect a lot of things, and I find it very difficult to part with some letters. I was recently looking at some from the 1980, what a difficult year that was, unemployment in Britain and so on and other problems in the world. One of the difficult things we have in this highly technological age now is that there may not be records such as letters, so I value them. I have a friend, Cedric Medland, who used to work with UNA Exchange full time (1986 – 1996 ), he’s a historian from the Isle of Wight, and he’s written a book on history –world history. And this is one thing we’ve talked about very much, and I think many historians would agree on this – the difficulty of having records, and having machines that will play the technology that we use. So the stuff we got in the Temple of Peace is invaluable. I think this is important to younger people like yourselves, because you can see what difficulties have been overcome in the past.
__23.__What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Losing a dear member of your family in an accident is absolutely terrible.
__24.__What is your favourite occupation?
__25.__What is your most marked characteristic?
[To his wife] Well you tell me! I don’t know. It’s very difficult to be objective. [His wife interjects “Impetuous!”] I’m a bit impetuous, yes.
__26.__What do you most value in your friends?
The fact that they remember me at all!
__27.__Who are your favourite writers?
I am not a very literary person I’m afraid. But we did mention Schumacher recently, Small is beautiful [by E. F. Schumacher]. I think that is a piece of philosophy in itself.
__28.__Who is your hero of fiction?
I need advance notice of these questions! I don’t know much about fiction. I can’t answer that I’m sorry.
__29.__Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I think that’s a bit presumptuous. I don’t think there’s one I can identify with at all!
“I do my own thing. I wouldn’t measure myself up against anybody else.”
__30.__Who are your heroes in real life?
In my lifetime, I suppose the greatest hero was Gandhi.
__31.__What are your favourite names?
Ingegerd [his wife’s name]. It’s a good name.
To know more about Robert Davies and the creation of UNA Exchange, click here !