How Should I Live?
Modern society doesn't provide much help in our biggest struggle: how to live. Neither does schooling.
It wasn't always this way — we used to have strong traditions to help us live fully. This is job of every culture: the Amish have a way of life, as do liberal Jews living on kibbutzes.
But modernity has mostly done away with those strong traditions. Each family, each generation, each individual has to create a way of life for themselves. Often, that's led to new freedoms, and new hopes of human flourishing: being anti-gay makes little sense, when you remove yourself from a 3000-year-old tradition.
But perhaps just as often, this lack of tradition has left us bereft of much-needed help. Life is always hard, and we each grope for a path of how to live it well.
We lose our tempers after we swore we wouldn't; we slip into idleness & despondency; we thoughtlessly hurt those who love us. We blame ourselves for not being happy — we're not even sure what would make us happy!
It's hard to know where to turn to for help! The academic discipline of philosophy is no help — it moved away from dealing with life philosophy long ago. Neither are most religious traditions, except the most fundamentalist.
Our society doesn't prepare us to live well.
Our basic plan:
Embrace asking the question "How should I live?"
Look for hints of answers in everything that we study — literature, history, religion, and philosophy. (This is easy, as, historically, many of the best works in these fields were created by people obsessed with our question.)
Grab every opportunity for kids to ask questions about life from the adults they know.
Make these answers the basis for real conversation. Prompt kids to debate different answers.
Adults who have already wrestled with fundamentally different strategies for living their lives, and who have even experimented with some of them.
Men and women who have earned some insight into what they want, and how they tick.
If you walk into a classroom, you might see:
Kids puzzling over why they struggle.
In middle school, kids looking for insights about how to live in everything they study — collecting juicy tidbits of wisdom in their commonplace books, and discussing them with friends.
In high school, kids taking on life hacking experiments — say, trying to live for 12 hours like Fred Rogers, or the Greek philosopher of simple pleasures Epicurus, or the Buddha, or Nietzsche.
(This idea is currently in beta! If you've thoughts on how to make it better, please shoot an e-mail to Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Philosophy for Children
To Learn More:
The Consolations of Philosophy, by Alain de Botton.