London's "School of Life" offers meaning in crisis

Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:52am EDT
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By Luke Baker

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - When it opened its doors late last year -- the same day investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed -- the School of Life could hardly have predicted that the world's economy was about go into meltdown.

Still less might it have imagined that its lectures and courses in love, family, work, politics and play -- all healthily sprinkled with philosophy -- would suddenly prove so unremittingly popular that it could barely cope with numbers.

But the world's economy has virtually melted down and the School of Life -- less a school than an arty bookshop with a classroom downstairs in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of central London -- has become something of a sanctuary from the chaos.

Designed to give its students -- mostly urban professionals looking to expand their horizons -- lessons in life and how better to appreciate its quirks and foibles, the school has tapped a rich vein at a time of social and economic uncertainty.

Offering Sunday 'sermons' on topics such as humility, envy, pessimism, risk and adultery, guidance on how to be a better conversationalist and advice on how to have more meaningful holidays, the school has become a spiritual and philosophical compass for those battered by the storms of life.

"We're not trying to tap into the reportage of the doom and gloom but to be more constructive about what is going on in our lives, and people seem to warm to that," said Sophie Howarth, the school's director and a former curator at Tate Modern.

"Since the credit crisis, the most notable thing has been an increase in interest in our work course, which looks at 'what do we want from work and from the jobs that we do'.

"The fact that we are more or less an optimistic place, while acknowledging that there is sometimes drudgery in work and that can be appreciated, helps us resonate with people."   Continued...