Ever find yourself in an emotionally volatile relationship or feeling empty at your job? You may be able to talk about these things with your friends and family, but how do you learn to develop these emotional and social skills? Who do you look to for advice when you’re not a kid anymore? Swiss-born, Britain-based philosopher, Alain de Botton is now doing more than offering up advice in his books such as Essays on Love and The Architecture of Happiness—he’s starting up schools.
The Seoul branch of the School of Life will be offering courses on everything from “How to be confident” to “How to make love last” to “How to face death.” Faculty includes Mina Sohn, Byline senior curator Daniel Tudor and Joh Company CEO, Joh Su-yong. For more information on The School of Life, go to: theschooloflife.com and to find out how you can join the Seoul branch go to: ssac.company.
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.
In London, you run something called The School of Life: what is it?
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.
You've written a lot about love: what does the School of Life think about love?
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.
There are branches of The School of Life all over Europe and in Australia too. Why did you decide to open The School of Life in Seoul?
Korea is a society that has many of the problems (and pleasures) of the modern world where people are extremely busy, life is crowded and expensive, there is never enough time and there is a tension between tradition and the hyper modern, between loyalty to family and to oneself. Koreans are extremely well-educated and curious and it seemed natural to open a branch here. We are so happy to have found a home in Seoul.
Are you teaching at The School of Life yourself?
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.
In Korea, the pressure to succeed academically and professionally is quite intense and leads to a lot of book-study. On the other end, The School of Life has a strong emphasis on emotional development and personal fulfillment. How do you think these structures will work for or against one another?
It should not only be children who go to school. Adults in general should see themselves as being in need of education, not for technical skills, but emotional skills. One should never be done with school. One should stay an active alumnus, learning throughout life. In the adult section of schools, there should be courses on how to converse with strangers, how to deal with the fear of getting old, how to calm down and how to forgive. Schools should be where a community gets educated, not just a place for children. In Utopia, the phrase, “I’ve finished school,” would sound extremely strange.