Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Wise Life, anyone?

"That would be a very courageous decision, minister"

A while back I volunteered to do a talk for the SPP on The Wise Life. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but, as Sir Humphrey would put it , it was a rather courageous decision.

The trouble is that as soon as you start talking about wisdom you are either going to seem unappealingly arrogant, or like Socrates, deny that you know anything about wisdom - in which case why talk about it? (The story goes that when the Oracle at Delphi proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest guy in Athens, Socrates decided that the only way this could be true was that only he, Socrates, was aware of the fact that he knew nothing).

One approach to wisdom is to look at its opposite, folly, and to try to learn from that.
When asked about their greatest mistakes ever, here are some of the answers that famous people have given:-

ROY HATTERSLEY "Not starting serious writing until I was 40, and spending 20 years without a dog."

ALAIN DE BOTTON "Most of my great mistakes (if only there were just one) have come from trying too hard to please other people."

FREDERICK FORSYTH "I almost started World War Three. It was 24 April 1964 ..."

JOHN O'FARRELL "My biggest mistake was thinking that the secret to being a brilliant stand-up comic was to do an entirely new and untested act in front of the biggest audience I had ever faced"

TOBY YOUNG "When I was 16, I went out on a date with this 17-year-old girl called Nicole. I'd had a crush on her for three years. At the end of the evening she invited me into her parents' house and up to her bedroom, and we started snogging. ....But in my 16-year-old wisdom...."

To see what happened to poor Toby you'll have to read the full article at The Independent

One might well chuckle at other people's misfortunes, but can we learn anything from this catalogue of folly? Well, perhaps - from Toby Young - that we need to have the wisdom of experience and knowledge of human nature. From John O'Farrell something like "Be prepared". From Alain de Botton "Don't try to please others." From Roy Hattersley "Learn what makes you happy as early as you can" From Frederick Forsyth "Think about the consequences of your actions"

But then doesn't run the risk of slipping into platitudes. A bit like at the end of Monty Python's Meaning of Life when Michael Palin finally reads out the answer to the Meaning of Life.
'Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.'

Have I, them made my biggest mistake in volunteering to talk about the Wise Life?
Well, I've got 4 whole days to find out the answers. And if you'd like to find out what happens, it would be great to see you there on Tuesday 19th December, at 630 pm at
Swedenborg House
David Wynter Room 2nd floor
20-21 Bloomsbury Way
Nearest tube: Holborn

Entrance is free, but please e-mail me if you intend to come as, unlike at John O'Farrell's gig, numbers are limited ...

New Personal Development Posts

There's a lot of new posts on the main Personal Development through Philosophy and Psychology website. Here are a few recent highlights ..

Beyond Authentic Happiness - 10 reasons to doubt Seligman

Are you researching positive psychology or looking for a review of Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness? Are you looking for a critique of Authentic Happiness? Have you read Authentic Happiness and are wondering if you are along in having some unanswered questions for Seligman? If so, read on ...

Counselling and Psychotherapy Training
Tim LeBon's top 7 tips on finding the right psychotherapy or counselling course for you
Your choice of counselling or psychotherapy course is crucial - it could be the difference between making the satisfying career change or want and being disillusioned and frusrated. I now teach some courses and also offer advice to trainee counsellors seeking the right course. If you want to book a consultation on this topic, e-mail me. Here for free are my top 7 tips on finding the right course for you.

Read more about counselling and psychotherapy training

Kierkegaard and Existentialism Page

Soren KierkegaardSoren Kierkegaard (1813-55) - The first existentialist philosopher?

Major works: Either/Or (1843), Fear and Trembling (1843), Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846)

Learn about Kierkegaard . Recommended novel about Kierkegaard's ideas; Read Kierkegaard Quotes

Best Kierkegaard and existentialism links

Read more about Kierkegaard

Why not google the Personal Development site to find your favourite page?

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

What would George Eliot have said to Captain Jack?

Captain JackWhat would George Eliot have said to Captain Jack ?George Eliot

Back in October, when my kids were starting to look forward to Xmas, I began to look forward to Torchwood.
"Dr Who for grown-ups" said the trailers. What could be better? Well, call me a kid that's never satisfied with his presents if you like, but watchable as it is, I was hoping for more than gore and sub-Bond excitement. I'm not alone. As one
blogger put it "Torchwood is a bit like a teenager who wants to be cool and grown-up; it wears lots of black and hangs around moodily, but it hasn't yet quite grasped that swearing and trying to shock aren't really the key to the thing."

For me, a real "Dr Who for grown-ups" would share the intelligence of the best science fiction. Like Kurt Vonnegut and Stanislaw Lem, it would play around with ideas to stimulate and illuminate our own thinking.
Last week's episode of Torchwood seemed promising - "what if you could read other people's mind". "Would that really be a good thing?" Would telepathy be useful? Or embarrassing? Or overwhelming? Well, it turned out to be all of these, and Tosh, Captain Jack and the gang decided that telepathy was something of a Greek gift. It wasn't a bad episode, but personally I find more illumination on the subject in the most unlikely of places - a classic Victorian novel.

In Middlemarch, George Eliot wrote:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life,
it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat,
and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of that silence.
As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

It's the last word of the last sentence that really gets to me. The first sentence - the roar which lies on the other side of silence - suggests the same answer as Torchwood. We can't afford to be too empathic, or too compassionate, or too caring. We just have to protect ourself with indifference. But for Eliot, it doesnt end there. Indifference doesn't just make you bad - it makes you stupid. Not knowing how other people feel is an intellectual as well as a moral failure.

If you were offered the gift of telepathy, should you accept it? Probably not. Should you try to be more compassionate and empathic? I wouldn't have guessed it from watching Torchwood, but reading Middlemarch suggests an emphatic "yes". And reading books like Middlemarch - unlike watching Torchwood - is one of the best ways to become more empathic, by entering into the world of the characters and gaining a better understanding of human nature.

Which leaves me with my disappointment over the BBC's pre-Xmas present. Well, I now realise that, like many an aged relative, Auntie doesn't always remember what she's already given you. In fact I got "Dr Who for grown-ups" a long, long time ago. So get out your towels and - Don't Panic!

Don't Panic!

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