The School of Life.

February 7, 2020

The School of Life.

May 29, 2023

I have a soft place in my heart for the modern-day philosopher. Martha Nussbaum, Ryan Holiday, Cornel West, Pico Iyer, Brian Johnson, Judith Butler. I admire them all. But, at the head of my class is Alain de Botton. I got to know Alain when we brought him to speak to all of our Airbnb employees six years ago.

I just finished reading his book eponymous with the title of this post and his decade-old school. “The School of Life” is subtitled “An Emotional Education.” I particularly appreciated the book because it felt like a kissin’ cousin to my book, “Emotional Equations,” which I wrote to help myself and the reader become more emotionally fluent.

Why does modern society place so much emphasis on perfecting our knowledge of science, math, and technical subjects and so little on guiding us to improve our psychology or emotions?

De Botton has the perfect answer, as he writes: “Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at math; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness. We devote inordinate hours to learning about tectonic plates and cloud formations, and relatively few fathoming shame and rage...The assumption is that emotional insight might be either unnecessary or in essence unteachable, lying beyond reason or method, an unreproducible phenomenon best abandoned to individual instinct and intuition. We are left to find our own path around our unfeasibly complicated minds - a move as striking (and as wise) as suggesting that each generation should rediscover the laws of physics by themselves.”

When it comes to machines, we’ve become wunderkinds. When it comes to emotions, there’s not much “wis-dumb” in the “king-dumb.” De Botton goes on to write, “We have the technology of an advanced civilization balancing precariously on an emotional base that has not developed much since we dwelt in caves. We have the appetites and destructive furies of primitive primates who have come into possession of thermonuclear warheads.”

What’s valuable in life and society is what’s scarce. So, maybe—just maybe—the wisdom of our emotions will be perceived as more and more valuable over time?

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