Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Alain de Botton, God love 'im

I know he sounds like a monk or someone from the Crusades, but he's actually a very English sounding writer with severe hair loss issues, a shiny nose and sort of rheumy, spaniel eyes. He's in Australia at the moment - I know this because he was on SBS this evening (on that Jenny Brockie pointing show - a semicircle of people speak briefly when JB points at them) and immediately after popped up on the radio. He talks such a lot of human good sense I have decided he is my (portentous chord) Human Being of the Month. Well done Alain.

His new book is about work. It's called something like Work: What the Hell Is That All About. He interviewed many many people from many occupations; the two he mentioned most were a) accountants and b) people working in the largest biscuit factory in Britain. There were two things he said that I liked particularly.

The modern job of careers counsellor is like the job of surgeon in ancient times. Everyone wants cutting a hole in someone's head to be useful. But that doesn't make it useful.

The interviewer on RN said he has been accused of encouraging people to lower their expectations. His response was that if every other influence on people is encouraging them to raise their expectations of their relationships, their wealth, their looks and the job satisfaction, then it doesn't hurt to have someone saying "Hang on a minute - settle down". It is a recent phenomenon to expect to marry for love, expect to have an interesting job, expect to travel, expect to have fun available on tap, expect to have private personal space etc. Suicide rates are highest in societies where these expectations have become ingrained, like ours.

I am in favour of lowered expectations. Some would attribute this to my laziness and a lack of pluck. I am not saying that they aren't factors. But I can testify to the simple pleasure of having limited ambitions and meeting them regularly.

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