The Eight Rules of The School of Life
The School of Life has produced 500 films and written 5 million words. This is an enormous problem.
To stand any hope of remaining in anyone’s mind, ideas — even very good ideas — need to be brief and reduced to an essence.
That’s why, for the sake of our followers, we’ve summarized everything we believe down to eight key points: the credo of The School of Life.
It goes as follows:
1. ACCEPT IMPERFECTION
We are inherently flawed and broken beings. Perfection is beyond us.
Despite our intelligence and our science, we will never stamp out stupidity and pain. Life will always continue to be — in central ways — about suffering.
We are all, from close up, scared, unsure, full of regret, longing and error.
No one is normal: the only people we can think of as normal are those we don’t yet know very well.
2. SHARE VULNERABILITY
Recognizing that we are each one of us weak, mad and mistaken should inspire compassion for ourselves — and generosity towards others.
Knowing how to reveal our vulnerability and brokenness is the bedrock of true friendship, which we universally crave.
People do not reliably end up with the lives they deserve. There is no true justice in the way that rewards are distributed. We should embrace the concept of tragedy: random terrible things can and do befall most lives. We may fail and be good — and therefore need to be slower to judge and quicker to understand. Those who have failed are not ‘losers’; we may soon be among them. Be kind.
3. KNOW YOUR INSANITY
We cannot be entirely sane, but it is a basic requirement of maturity that we understand the ways in which we are insane, can warn others we care about what our insanities might make us do, early and in good time and before we have caused too much damage — and take constant steps to contain rather than act out our follies.
We should be able to have a ready answer — and never take offence — if someone asks us (as they should): ‘In what ways are you mad’?
Most of the madness comes down to childhood, which will — in a way unique to our situation — have unbalanced us. No one has yet had a ‘normal’ childhood; this is no insult to the efforts of families.
4. ACCEPT YOUR IDIOCY
Do not run away from the thought you may be an idiot as if this were a rare and dreadful insight. Accept the certainty with good grace, in full daylight. You are an idiot but there is no other alternative for a human being. We are on a planet of seven billion comparable fools.
Embracing our idiocy should render us confident before challenges — for messing up is to be expected — comfortable with ourselves, and ready to extend a hand of friendship to our similarly broken and demented neighbors.
We should overcome shame and shyness because we have already shed so much of our pride.
5. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH
The alternative to perfection isn’t failure, it’s to make our peace with the idea that we are, each of us, ‘good enough’. Good enough parents, siblings, workers and humans.
‘Ordinary’ isn’t a name for failure. Understood more carefully, and seen with a more generous and perceptive eye, it contains the best of life.
Life is not elsewhere; it is, fully and properly, here and now.
6. OVERCOME ROMANTICISM
‘The one’ is a cruel invention. No-one is ever wholly ‘right’ nor indeed wholly wrong.
True love isn’t merely an admiration for strength, it is patience and compassion for our mutual weaknesses. Love is a capacity to bring imagination to bear on a person’s less impressive moments — and to bestow an ongoing degree of forgiveness for natural fragility.
No one should be expected to love us ‘just as we are’. Learning and developing are at the core of love. Genuine love involves two people helping each other to become the best version of themselves.
Compatibility isn’t a prerequisite for love; it is the achievement of love.
7. DESPAIR CHEERFULLY
We are under undue and unfair pressure to smile. But almost nothing will go entirely well: we can expect frustration, misunderstanding, misfortune and rebuffs. We should be allowed to be melancholy. Melancholy is not rage or bitterness, it is a noble species of sadness that arises when we are open to the fact that disappointment is at the heart of human experience. In our melancholy state, we can understand without fury or sentimentality that no one fully understands anyone else, that loneliness is universal and that every life has its full measure of sorrow.
But though there is a vast amount to feel sad about, we’re not individually cursed and against the backdrop of darkness, many small sweet things should stand out: a sunny day, a drifting cloud; dawn and dusk, a tender look. With the tragedy of existence firmly in mind, we can take pleasure in a single, uneventful day, some delicate flowers or an intimate conversation with a friend. We can learn how to draw the full value from what is good, whenever, wherever and in whatever doses it arises.
Despair but do so cheerfully: believe in cheerful despair.
8. TRANSCEND YOURSELF
We are not at the center of anything; thankfully. We are miniscule bundles of evanescent matter on an infinitesimal corner of a boundless universe. We do not count one bit in the grander scheme. This is a liberation.
Rather than complaining that we are too small, we should delight in being humbled by a mighty ocean, a glacier, or planet Kepler 22b, 638 light-years from earth in the constellation of Cygnus.
We should gain relief from the thought of the kindly indifference of spatial infinity: an eternity where no-one will notice, and where the wind erodes the rocks in the space between the stars. Cosmic humility — taught to us by nature, history and the sky above us — is a blessing and a constant alternative to a life of frantic jostling, humorlessness and anxious pride.
A final point: some of this may sound convincing. But that isn’t enough. We know — in theory — about all of it. And yet in practice, any such ideas have a notoriously weak ability to motivate our actual behavior and emotions. Our knowledge is both embedded within us and yet is ineffective for us.
We forget almost everything. Our memories are sieves, not robust buckets. What seemed a convincing call to action at 8am will be nothing more than a dim recollection by midday and an indecipherable contrail in our cloudy minds by evening. Our enthusiasms and resolutions can be counted upon to fade like the stars at dawn. Nothing much sticks.
For this reason, we need to go back over things. Maybe once a day, certainly once a week. A true good ‘school’ shouldn’t tell us only things we’ve never heard before; it would be deeply interested in rehearsing all that is theoretically known yet practically forgotten.
That’s why we should keep the eight rules in mind — and why the next step is to subscribe — and to return here often.
If you enjoyed this article, many of its ideas are explored further in Bold Truths: 20 philosophical prints encapsulating the most important lessons The School of Life has to teach, and The School of Life: An Emotional Education: an introduction to the modern art of emotional intelligence.
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Founded by the philosopher Alain de Botton, The School of Life is a global organization helping people to find perspective and resilience in the face of life’s challenges. We share ideas through a range of channels, including books, eBooks, films, virtual classes and tools for emotional well-being.