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May 28 2012

School of Philosophy – week 1

More on the School of Philosophy: [Introduction] Week 1 [Week 2] [Week 3] [Week 4] [Week 5] [Week 6] [Week 7] [Week 8] [Week 9] [Week 10]

So, what was the first week of the course like? It was fun. We went through the main aims of the course, and the relationships between philosophy, wisdom and happiness.

I also enjoyed meeting my fellow students. One lady told me she’d previously started the introductory course and been unable to finish it, partly because the whole School of Philosophy reminded her of a church group. She was referring to a certain dagginess about the interior decor, and the way everyone was dressed.

We discussed the qualities of wisdom, using three very cheesy, well worn examples as a guide: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Ghandi. Yes, these are certainly cool people who’ve achieved amazing things over the course of their lives. But is that really the best we could come up with? It smacks a bit of ‘coffee shop philosophy 101’.

Yes, the Dalai Lama also received a mention.

More to the point, I really know very little about any of these people, and I suspect no one else in the room did either. They exist in the popular imagination as iconic, semi-legendary cultural memes.

The other thing these four have in common is the endurance of extreme physical hardship and/or poverty and/or exile in their dedication to a particular cause. Right now, at this present moment in my life, if I went home to my family and told them I was giving up everything I owned to follow my vocation and change the world, I not sure they would say I was ‘wise’.

What would a wise person do?

Does this matter for the purpose of the exercise? I’m not sure. We did manage to come up with a workable list of attributes of ‘a wise person’. This provided a basis for our first piece of homework: over the course of the week, in every day situations, ask ourselves ‘what would a wise person do?’

This is a great example of appreciative enquiry in action. The question presupposes an underlying ability to:

  • imagine a wise course of action
  • recognise the difference between ‘wise’ and ‘unwise’
  • be wise.

If we accept these assumptions and agree we have the capacity for wisdom, it’s hard not to wonder what’s stopping us from being wise all the time?

The Exercise

The second piece of homework was an exercise to focus our attention in the present moment. This exercise is named, rather prosaically, ‘The Exercise’.

The School of Practical Philosophy in (the equally prosaically named) Pleasanton, California has an audio recording of the Exercise on its website.

Our homework is to complete the Exercise twice a day, preferably morning and night. So far that’s been going well. I’ve found it very effective. This is really what I signed up for. In my current situation, running my own business, with multiple projects and demands on my attention, it often seems like my mind is running at a million miles an hour, all the time, and it can be hard to turn it off.

I know I’m not alone. In the course of my working and social life, lots of people have told me they have so much to do, with so little time, they are feeling stretched and they’re losing sleep. I’ve found the Exercise has helped me so far, and I think my family are noticing a positive difference.

So far, I don’t think anyone has tried to brainwash me. Of course, if I have been brainwashed already, I might not know it.

I’ll let you know how week 2 goes.

More on the School of Philosophy: [Introduction] Week 1 [Week 2] [Week 3] [Week 4] [Week 5] [Week 6] [Week 7] [Week 8] [Week 9] [Week 10]

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