"That would be a very courageous decision, minister"
A while back I volunteered to do a talk for the SPP on The Wise Life. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but, as Sir Humphrey would put it , it was a rather courageous decision.
The trouble is that as soon as you start talking about wisdom you are either going to seem unappealingly arrogant, or like Socrates, deny that you know anything about wisdom - in which case why talk about it? (The story goes that when the Oracle at Delphi proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest guy in Athens, Socrates decided that the only way this could be true was that only he, Socrates, was aware of the fact that he knew nothing).
One approach to wisdom is to look at its opposite, folly, and to try to learn from that.
When asked about their greatest mistakes ever, here are some of the answers that famous people have given:-
ROY HATTERSLEY "Not starting serious writing until I was 40, and spending 20 years without a dog."
ALAIN DE BOTTON "Most of my great mistakes (if only there were just one) have come from trying too hard to please other people."
FREDERICK FORSYTH "I almost started World War Three. It was 24 April 1964 ..."
JOHN O'FARRELL "My biggest mistake was thinking that the secret to being a brilliant stand-up comic was to do an entirely new and untested act in front of the biggest audience I had ever faced"
TOBY YOUNG "When I was 16, I went out on a date with this 17-year-old girl called Nicole. I'd had a crush on her for three years. At the end of the evening she invited me into her parents' house and up to her bedroom, and we started snogging. ....But in my 16-year-old wisdom...."To see what happened to poor Toby you'll have to read the full article at The Independent
One might well chuckle at other people's misfortunes, but can we learn anything from this catalogue of folly? Well, perhaps - from Toby Young - that we need to have the wisdom of experience and knowledge of human nature. From John O'Farrell something like "Be prepared". From Alain de Botton "Don't try to please others." From Roy Hattersley "Learn what makes you happy as early as you can" From Frederick Forsyth "Think about the consequences of your actions"
But then doesn't run the risk of slipping into platitudes. A bit like at the end of Monty Python's Meaning of Life when Michael Palin finally reads out the answer to the Meaning of Life.
'Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.'
Have I, them made my biggest mistake in volunteering to talk about the Wise Life?
Well, I've got 4 whole days to find out the answers. And if you'd like to find out what happens, it would be great to see you there on Tuesday 19th December, at 630 pm at
David Wynter Room 2nd floor
20-21 Bloomsbury Way
Nearest tube: Holborn
Entrance is free, but please e-mail me if you intend to come as, unlike at John O'Farrell's gig, numbers are limited ...