Friday, May 26, 2006

Supper with Sophocles

Last night I started a philosophy course. I don’t know what possessed me, but why not? The course was there, and I’m in Brisbane with nothing to do after work. And I do feel a bit brain dead after too many years on the North Coast. Perhaps this will be the antidote. It’s a twelve week course so expect to notice a gradual increase in sage contemplation over the coming months.

The class was held in a draughty old building in the city centre. About fifteen of us perched on moulded plastic chairs individually upholstered with a range of ragtag cushions flattened by many bottoms (for some reason I thought philosophising should be done from armchairs). The tutor uses a blackboard, with genuine chalk and a rubber duster.

It was very weird turning up. I nearly left as soon as I arrived. I thought, ‘No way, these are not my sort of people.’ And that was just the assistants – more advanced philosophy students who volunteer their time to run the beginner courses. I felt like maybe I was joining some religion – the volunteers all had that expression of bland happiness that seems to characterise committed Christians. Like everything is going over their head because they have faith that God is taking care of everything. One volunteer was posted at the front door, who pointed me inside where another volunteer waited on the landing halfway up the stairs to point me to the doorway at the top of the stairs, where two volunteers waited (big job that one obviously) to welcome me and point me inside the room where three sunny volunteers waited to take my money. Then there was another volunteer presiding over the teapots and a third offering sandwiches and lamington fingers, and a final volunteer welcoming me into the draughty classroom.

My fellow seekers of wisdom were reassuringly, slightly more normal. (oh dear, TWO adverbs in one sentence. Stephen King says, ‘The adverb is not your friend’). There’s a Vietnam vet who is clearly still in the grip of some pretty severe post-traumatic stress. There’s an elderly couple who’ve graduated from a U3A (University of the third age) philosophy course and wanted to find out more. There’s a youngish musician and a silent Indian woman and a very young perfect blonde who looked unutterably bored the whole evening. I of course am one of the more vocal members.

Our first class was kinda defining wisdom. What is wisdom? What is happiness? and what is truth? That’s where we started. Then we talked about the qualities of a wise person. I think it was all fairly trite in the first week as we spent a bit of time reciting truisms that we’d all held onto without really thinking about. ‘Wise people live simple lives,’ ‘I love seeking the truth’ and so on. The philosophy school is defining wisdom as ‘that knowledge that enables us to live truly and happily’. I’m a bit put off by the ‘happily.’ Does wisdom make you happy? I can envisage that possibly wisdom could make you unhappy – for example wisdom that you couldn’t apply because of external restraints. And it also sounds like one seeks wisdom for the payoff. Maybe I think people should be pure, and seek wisdom for it’s own sake – it’s not okay to want to be wise in order to be happy. It seems a bit mercenary – ‘before I try and be wise, I want to know what’s in it for me.’

Our homework for the week is to think ‘what would a wise person do in this situation?’ just whenever the question comes to mind. Not around particularly big issues, just applying it to everyday issues. I can’t say it’s enabled me to tap into any universal wisdom yet.

Would a wise person have a blog?

I think not.

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