Thursday, 20 May 2010

Is Brainy the New Black?

Last night I went to The School of Life. Don't laugh. I know what you're thinking. Sounds a bit hokey, maybe even nerdy, right? But it was great. The class was called 'How to Make a Difference.' I read about the school in January, in the Times Style Magazine and I was intrigued. Admittedly, reading about it in the Style Magazine was half the charm because it meant that intellectual can also be stylish. And I really liked the idea of sitting around and philosophizing freely, stretching the brain in a different direction, something that hasn't been a part of my daily life since my university days.

I had no idea what to expect. The school is in Bloomsbury so, romantically, I anticipated a bit of a Virginia Woolf Bloomsbury Group vibe. The class ran the gamut, from the lecturer quoting great philosophers to discussing people who effect change, anyone from a guy who has single-handedly improved his town by picking up rubbish everyday to Greg Mortenson, the adventurer who has dedicated his life to promoting education and literacy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We debated topics such as politics and power, cultural changes, and how it is far better to be a participant rather than a spectator in life. Through it all, there was a spirit of belief that each of us really could effect change in our own way. We broke into small groups and discussed what you would change in the world and how you would go about doing it. It was idealism peppered with realistic solutions. The group of 20-25 students were in their 30's and 40's, well-educated, well-dressed and with good jobs. We bonded over wine and baguettes stuffed with parma ham and rocket.

As I said to a a fellow student, 'I don't know what I expected. Maybe a group of zealots or soapbox warriors?'
She said, 'Yeah, but they wouldn't be here because they're far too busy saving the world.'
Good point.

On the way home, I started thinking about what really resonated for me. One of the things that the lecturer discussed is that it's dangerous to place a hierarchy on the good that people do. It's true that Bill Gates donates millions and millions of his own money to charitable causes but does that make his deeds more important than a parent who is raising responsible, kind, emotionally intelligent children? Maybe there is greatness in each of us. And maybe, in order to tap into that greatness, we first have to be honest with ourselves. We need to know who we truly are and to ensure that we're not operating on an empty reserve tank before we can give freely. That way, when an opportunity to make a difference does present itself, we will be in a position to do something about it. We don't have to be Mother Theresa to make a difference. Personally, I'm no saint and don't really want to be. But I quite like the idea of random acts of kindess or paying it forward. Anyway, it's all food for thought that I got from The School of Life.


  1. This sounds really interesting. I know that when I have been really down and out and a stranger has been kind to me--it has almost changed my world. For them, it was nothing and they probably didnt even remember it by the end of the week. For me, their small, effortless kindness was life changing. I always remember that feeling when I am given the opportunity to help someone--even if it is just letting them out in a line of traffic.

    And its all relative. Bill Gates gives more money because he has more to give. He probably helps more people as well. But the one person I helped today, or the two people tomorrow, will be just as grateful as each individual Bill Gates helps.

  2. Michelloui, I think the old adage 'charity begins at home' is very wise. And you're right---doing a nice deed for someone can really make their day and it gives us all a sense of hope that the majority of people really are kind.

  3. It definitely is all relative. I truly admire Bill Gates because he's shaming other gazillionaires into giving back instead of collecting yachts, but everyone can make a difference.
    I have just organised a sponsored walk for a small school in Ghana. We raised a lot of money but not Gates' type "lot" however, it will enable the school to tile all the floors, plumb in a toilet, start building another classroom and obtain decent water supply for the kids. It doesn't matter how small your efforts, it always makes a difference to someone.

  4. Expat mum, your project will make a positive difference in a lot of kids' lives over the coming years. Everyone is so busy with their own lives and I admire you for taking the time to organize and manage a project like that.

  5. I went to the School of Life last autumn for some 'bibliotherapy'. It's a very interesting place. Glad you had a good time! That sort of class sounds right up my alley.

  6. Noble Savage, it was definitely 'interesting.' But I would recommend this class. It was thought-provoking and not preachy. I think there's another one coming up:)