Having been running in the UK for the last few years, The School of Life has now set up shop in Melbourne. The Alain de Botton-founded institution is devoted to the development of emotional intelligence through the help of culture. A successful pop-up version in 2013 has led to a permanent location in the CBD and the first season of classes for Melburnians wanting to learn more of life and of themselves.
My fiancée and I attended How to Have Better Conversations. This three hour class, moderated by writer and filmmaker Sofia Stefanovic, is introduced with a mix of Fight Club rules (what’s said in class is not to be repeated outside of class) and a disclaimer that she is there to impart information on the history of conversation and what the aspects of good conversation may be, not necessarily teaching us how to have better conversations. It is unclear whether The School of Life has introduced How to Better Name Classes as yet.
The venue fits into the hipster vibe of Melbourne – barista coffee, stools rather than chairs, emotionally accessible books (all are for sale and conveniently are written mostly by members of the UK faculty of TSOL). Attached to the cafe area is a small lecture-cum-tutorial room where the learnings occur. Unfortunately, the air-conditioning was down during our session. Thirty or so people in a studio-sized room for three hours stifles not only the brain but also the flow of conversation.
The discussions on the history of conversation, particularly the role of salons in the 18th and 19th centuries, and its comparison to the impact modern technology is having on the future of verbal interactions were the most interesting and enlightening components of the class.
The age of our fellow attendees spanned early twenties to mid fifties, however there was an over-representation of wordy undergraduate students who seemed more interested in their own voices than listening to some of the more informed insights of their classmates.
A fifteen minute midsection break to share some cheese and crackers was held in TSOL’s ‘Conversation Cafe’. ‘Small Talk Smorgasbord’ was the order of the day however with chit-chat ranging from participants’ occupations to mode of transport to the venue. I’m glad to see that TSOL website advertises the upcoming A Night of Better Conversation. However TSOL doesn’t seem to play by the rules of nominative determinism.
Even though the class didn’t necessarily deliver what had been advertised we found the evening to be thought-provoking and a generator of some robust debate between the two of us about what we respectively found to be the strengths of, and barriers to, a good conversation.
I’d certainly give TSOL a second go. Some of the other classes on offer do grab my attention such as How to be Creative and How to Realise Your Potential. I do acknowledge that How to be Less Cynical may be of some use.