Conversations topics

Listen to some of the stories: Passportraits Soundtrack

Here are some examples for topics for conversations during the Passportraits performance:


The well-known Dutch neurologist Dick Swaab claims that ‘we are our brains.’ He says that everything we do is already genetically ‘programmed,’ in our mother’s womb. After our third year we can not change anymore…

What does your experience /beliefs say:

How much freedom do we have to choose, to make decisions, to shape our life?

And how much of it is determined? Can we make a conscious decision?

Do we have free will?


 As the Rolling Stones said: ‘… you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need…’

 You need an alternative when things don’t happen the way you expect them to go. I am interested to hear experiences about plans, dreams and ambitions with a different outcome than intended. I would like to know what the (unpredictable) circumstances were that forced you to change your plans and to choose another solution. Did you make a compromise? Did you choose to ignore the problems? Did you discover something new about yourself? Did you see any other options? Could you say it was a blessing in disguise?


 “The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame” (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde)

In the famous Oscar Wilde story, the painter creates a perfect portrait of Dorian, a beautiful young man. In a magical way, the painting becomes a mirror of Dorian Gray’s soul and reflects all his thoughts and (evil) deeds. Dorian stays young and beautiful, but the painting gets distorted, and becomes monstrous…

In another well-known story in the Christian tradition, Saint Veronica captures the suffering of Jesus, his blood tears and sweat, in a white cloth, which she gives to him on the way to the cross. Her name, Veronica, is said to be derived from ‘vera icon’ – meaning ‘the true image’, Jesus’s true face. Often there is a difference between what we show, what is legible on our face, and what we really feel.

 I am curious to hear how do you feel: What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Do you like or dislike your face? Do you think your face is a mirror to your soul? Does your face reflect your thoughts, moods, emotions or deeds? And if so, in which way? Do you get a different expression on your face in different periods of life; for example in different seasons, moods, or lands? Was your face changed by a remarkable experience in your life? Has your appearance ever influenced the outcome of something in your life? (Like for example getting a job ?) Is your face your ‘true face’?


“With or without you, I can’t live with or without you”… (U2)

Connections, relationships, links, alliances, ties, bonds…

For nearly everybody, the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.

We deal with connections every day; they are friends, family, colleagues, or lovers…

We cannot live without the other, but sometimes we cannot live with them either.

A relationship with the other often gives meaning to our life.

Relationships make us feel happy, loved, appreciated and they can aid our development,

but relationships can also make us angry, sad, or jealous, and disappoint us…

Can you relate something of your experiences of (dis)connection?

Do you have a special bond with a family member? Do you get annoyed with someone in your family?

Do you ever get help from a friend or colleague you value especially?

Did you have relationships that hurt you, or made you very angry?

Did you ever fight with colleagues? Did someone ever disappoint you deeply?

Did you ever have love affairs that took a different course from what you expected?

Is there someone in particular with whom you cannot live?

Do you sometimes fight with yourself?


Routines, daily life, work days with breakfast, lunch and dinner…

Many days resemble each other, and we often forger

What we did or experienced on an ordinary day.

But occasionally we experience something with the certain knowledge:

I will never forget this experience!

Virginia Woolf called these ‘moments of being’ in her autobiographical writings.

Usually these experiences give us a shock, moving our spirit; We are awoken…

I would like you to tell me: Which experiences have moved your spirit?

How old were you? Where were you?

Why do you think you will never forget this experience?

Do you like thinking about this experience?

Or does it irritate you?

Are there specific moments when these memories return to you?


We often say ‘actions speak louder than words.’

But can a pronouncement, an assertion, or a special story have an enormous impact on our lives?

The Bible tells us: The tongue has the power of life and death. (Proverbs 18:21)

What can you share from your own experience?

Do you remember a phrase, an expression, or a piece of advice from a parent or teacher?

Did this phrase stay with you for years?

Does it still influence your thoughts or behaviour ?

Did you ever have a conversation with a friend which completely altered your mood, and thus gave you particularly good or bad energy?

Did you ever read something or listen to a lecture or ‘sermon’ that changed your mind completely?

Or that gave you a new perspective on the world?

Has a rumour about you ever been spread, which may have tainted your good name, or a friendship or relationship?


 During a radio interview in 1951 the French poet Jean Cocteau was asked: ‘what would you save if your house were on fire?’ Cocteau answered: ‘I would take the fire.’

We often get attached to material things, old possessions, a teddy bear, a photograph, a necklace, a faded T-shirt…

Usually there is a story connected to these objects, a memory or an experience. Usually such an object belongs to a period in our lives when something particular happened, when we experienced great joy or sorrow.

Do you have such an object, that you treasure and always carry with you?

What intangible memory is connected to this object?

What memory or experience would you like to always keep with you?

(Cocteau anecdote from Jean Cocteau Vier Gedichten [Jean Cocteau: Four Poems], Dutch translation and commentary Theo Festen (Amsterdam: De Woelrat,1988)).


Yin and yang (☯) are Chinese concepts referring to two opposite principles or forces that permeate all aspects of life and the universe. Yin represents female characteristics and Yang represents male traits.

Yin features are, among others, intuitive, creative, passionate, emotional, and receptive. Yang attributes are analytic, competitive, resolute, rational, self-aware and goal oriented.

But different from our understanding in the West, ‘male’ and ‘female’ energies do not denote gender roles or sexual stereotypes – we are in essence two sides of the same coin.

In order to be healthy, balanced and productive, every human being must possess some of both traits, the male and the female, the Yin and the Yang.

One could also say we are all hermaphroditic to a degree.…

How do you see yourself?

Can you strike a good balance between these two sides of yourself, the male and the female?

Do you have more male or female characteristics?

Which of your traits do you regard as feminine?

And what masculine traits do you possess? When do they become apparent?

Have you changed over the years, have you switched from predominantly male characteristics to female, or vice versa?


I assume that every person has had, at some point in their lives, consciously or unconsciously, to manipulate someone else in order to achieve a certain goal.

Could you talk about situations in which you have manipulated someone, like your child, parent, friend or colleague?

Why did you do it? Tell me about the situation.

What was the reason? What were you trying to accomplish? Was it difficult?

What did you feel? Were you proud, or conversely, ashamed of yourself?

What was the result of the manipulation? Did you accomplish what you had set out to?

Did the manipulation lead to any trouble or arguments?

Have you ever been manipulated by someone else?


 Witches, spiders, blood, snakes, UFO’s, deformed people, bats… these are often how fears are depicted in horror films.

But in ordinary everyday life, our fears often look very different, and vary per person…

What is terrifying to one person is hilarious to another.


 What can’t you handle? Which situations or places scare you?

Do you remember a moment when you were very frightened? Why was that?

How do you deal with your fears? Do you accept the fear? Are there things you avoid?

Have you found a way of overcoming your fears?


Ramadan for the Muslims, Yom Kippur for the Jews, confession or prayer for the Christians; every religion has a special moment, day or month where one has the opportunity to confess one’s sins, seek reconciliation and ask for forgiveness.

Every religion has a different view on what sin is, and different rituals to forgive the sins.

If one is not religious, one often has to think for oneself what is just and what is wrong. One must devise one’s own ‘rituals’ or ‘punishments’ and also decide oneself on the moment of forgiveness.

What do you feel guilty about? (When do you feel guilty?)

What do you regard as a sin?

Have you ever been accused of a crime of which you felt innocent, or conversely, have you felt guilty for no reason? What does a ‘sin’ mean to you?

Can you easily forgive yourself? Can you forgive others? Are you vengeful, or do you forgive easily?

How do you behave when you feel guilty or think that you have done something wrong?

Do you confess your feelings? Do you ask forgiveness? Of whom?

Can you forgive yourself?


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