Q&A: Alain de Botton
Critically acclaimed Swiss-born, Britain-based philosopher, Alain de Botton, gives Time Out Seoul an in-depth look at The School of Life and its future presence in Seoul (opening in October) as run by journalist Mina Sohn.
It's a place to come and study everything that we never tend to study at school or university, and yet which is essential to leading a good and fulfilled life. Questions like: Who should I marry? How do I have a successful relationship? How do I find a career that suits me? What do I do if I can't sleep, or am anxious or melancholic? These questions fascinate me, I have often written about them, and The School of Life is a place where you can go and have classes and conversations around them. The School of Life publishes books, runs classes, organizes talks, makes clothes and has a Youtube channel. Our activities are diverse because we are trying to communicate with a wide public in a very modern way.
At the School, we agree with the view (first put forward by Freud) that a fulfilled life is essentially made up of two ingredients: love and work. But we’re also aware that disappointment, frustration and a sense of failure are very often the norm in these arenas, which both saddens us and spurs our efforts.Our current relationship difficulties also stem from a cultural source, which we call “romanticism.” We’ve collectively given ourselves a deeply problematic, romantic picture of what good relationships should be like in which we dream of profound intimacy, satisfying sex, an absence of secrets and only a modicum of conflict. This faith in love is touching, but it carries with it the tragic flaw that having high expectations can turn out to be an enemy of workable, mature relationships. We are instead drawn to what we call a “classical approach.” The classical view is cautious about love and the philosophy behind it holds that because we are not naturally well equipped for the demands of relationships, we need a lot of assistance and education. We require regular reminders to be more patient, forgiving, understanding and appreciative. The starting point has to be a frank recognition of our natural frailties. We have to accept that we have terrible tendencies to misinterpret people and situations and regularly fail at the challenges of getting close to others. We believe that love is a skill that has to be learnt, not an impulse that can just be followed.
No, the School is in many ways very independent from me. I started it, but a team now operates it. In Seoul, we have a wonderful team lead by the author and journalist Mina Sohn. She has taken the initiative and will choose the lecturers and arrange the curriculum. I trust she will do something wonderful.