This week I attended a ‘How to make a difference’ class at the School of Life. Along with a bunch of other thirty somethings, I spent an evening honing my non-violent activism skills, and concocted plans to change the world. Most attendees were positive do-gooders, some were just curious as to what exactly is taught at the School of Life.
Located in a Bloomsbury shop, the school is a social enterprise founded by writers and thinkers to teach people to live wisely, or ‘to tickle, exercise and expand your mind.’ On offer are classes on ‘How to make love last’, ‘How to balance work and life’, as well as Secular Sunday Sermons, Psychotherapy and Bibliotherapy sessions. You can practice your conversation skills in Conversation drinks, and nourish your mind at Reading retreats.
In this particular course, journalist John Paul Flintoff spoke about how to be self-sufficient by sewing his own clothes and 198 other forms of non-violent activism. Like the story of the Yugoslavian students who instigated the mass protest against Milosovic’s regime of fear by pasting stickers ridiculing him all over Belgrade. Or like the Norwegians infuriating German occupiers by never sitting down on the empty seat next to them.
Alain de Botton, pop philosopher and ambassador for the school, makes the point that it has become suspect to do good. As everyone is now running marathons for charity, people need to be convinced that your cause is worth running for. Since the merger of the entertainment and charity industries, there’s a whole fashionable lot of people who want to do good, from Bono and Brangelina to ecological hipsters. Their charity seems to be motivated by a contemporary sense of needing to be that special person. Many have quite fuzzy ideas about what exactly is the problem, let alone how to fight it.
Successfully changing the world, however, may depend less on fame and money than on a clear course of action, and a cross-society coalition for change. This is the idea behind the Dutch National ThinkTank, a Dutch charity founded five years ago to ignite social innovation. Bright young things from politics, business and academia each year join forces to spark creative and practical innovation through rigorous analysis.
So the point is to make it happen. Define the problem, create the solution and convince the world, together. And check out the School of Life.