Tag Archives: alain de botton

The School of Life and change

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.

A friend’s honesty

A good friendship deserves honesty

So, honesty, I think it’s underrated in most friendships. Although being Dutch most of my friends already think I’m frank and direct, I don’t think I do enough of it. Why? Because it keeps a friendship straight and simple. There’s no point hiding my disappointment (within reason of course) when a friend cancels an appointment for example, just as I wouldn’t hide my enthusiasm when they would propose doing something fun. I tend to feel that showing the disappointment is a sign of weakness but actually it’s much better to make it clear to my friend what is the type of friendship that works for me. If that matches from both sides, then fine. If not also fine, though a shame – but you at least give each other the opportunity to make amends.

Of course it’s a bit tiresome to play this game all the time, and mostly it’s not even necessary. But sometimes you get this nagging feeling and you just don’t know what was the beginning or the end of a withering friendship, and then I wish that I’d been clearer much earlier.

It’s like a girl taking the initiative to kiss a boy – it feels liberating to take charge and to be zen about the outcome… 😉 More on this after attending the ‘How To Be a Good Friend’ class at philosopher Alain de Botton’s very cool School of Life, or perhaps the ‘How Necessary Is A Relationship‘ one.