When I told our 15-year-old-son what we were doing this week, he rolled his eyes with all the worldly scorn and condescension only a teen his age can muster. ‘Are you serious?’ he scoffed. ‘Someone has actually called this The School of Life? Don’t they know how ridiculous that sounds?’ Before I could even attempt to explain, he snorted derisively and walked away.
It may sound ridiculous to him, but the school’s founder – philosopher and best-selling author Alain de Botton – appears to be right on the money when it comes to finding a popular social concept.
The Swiss-born British writer, now living in the US, opened his first School of Life in London in 2008. There, you can take part in social events and short courses designed to offer ‘good ideas for everyday life.’
It’s all about people getting together to discuss deep and meaningful philosophical issues for entertainment, rather than going to the local pub for the three-thousandth time and getting inebriated with your mates to the point where you have little recollection as to the night’s events. It seems people must be tiring of that exercise, because de Botton’s courses are in high demand and most often sold out.
We know this because de Botton opened a School of Life here in Melbourne only last week. Fletch is a big fan of de Botton’s work, and has studied philosophy academically, so suggested we might like to try a session or two. There’s nothing he loves more than an all-consuming philosophical debate. And I love new ideas for a night out – plus it’s something we can do together, (rather than Fletch’s current passion, golf, which I still find a tad dull) so I readily agreed. But by the time we managed to look at the calendar and choose an event, we’d go on-line only to find it had been sold out. And this happened not once, but several times.
There’s plenty of engaging topics to pick from. Things like ‘How to Balance Work with Life’ (yes please!) ‘How Necessary is a Relationship’, ‘How to Make Love Last’, ‘How to Find a Job You Love’, ‘How to Face Death’ (not yet, thanks…) and ‘How to Fill the God Shaped Hole’. Just to name a few…
The London school sums it up on it’s website as “services concerned with how to live wisely and well. We address such questions as why work is often unfulfilling, why relationships can be so challenging, why it’s ever harder to stay calm and what one could do to try to change the world for the better.”
All pretty worthy issues to ponder, don’t you think? The one night we did manage to score tickets for is called “A Dinner with Epicurus’.
I’m pretty happy about this as apparently the sign on Epicurus’ garden gate read: “Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.” I’m all for pleasure – bring it on. Apparently we’ll be seated in the comforting ambience of the North Fitzroy Star, with not only a feast of food, but plenty of conversation stoppers on the menu – mostly about appreciating life’s most important pleasures.
Leading us through the discussion will be renowned philosopher and writer, Damon Young. He’ll help us explore topics such as ethics and religion, and friendship and happiness. If all goes well, I should leave with a satisfied tummy AND a revitalised understanding of the pleasures of living wisely and well. Hip hip hooray.
The only bit I’m not clapping about is ‘the chance for in-depth conversation with a number of other guests.’ That could be a bit TOO intense… Can’t I just listen?
In case you need reminding, Alain de Botton’s most recent best seller ‘Religion for Atheists’ topped Australia’s book lists for the large part of last year and has been critically acclaimed by most – apart from one bloke from the new York Times, who had this to say:
“Many of us would rather live frustrated in the company of the believers than fulfilled in this flatland of the atheists. The atheists know what they don’t believe in, but they don’t seem to know what they don’t feel. This is a gap that has existed for centuries, and de Botton doesn’t fill it.”
Hmmm, that’s food for thought for another blog altogether… keeping in mind we’ve always been taught the two things NOT to chat about are religion and politics.
Which brings me to the one course the School of Life repeats over and over, which is ALWAYS sold out – ‘The Art of Conversation’. Now, anyone who knows me would probably agree I’m not usually stuck for words when it comes to having a chat. Nor am I what you would call a ‘shy and retiring’ type. But I would like to know what The School of Life considers a good conversationalist. I’m intrigued as to the advice offered. I’m determined to get in to this course, whatever it takes. I need to know. What if I’ve been getting it wrong all these years???