the Talks: Past events

School of Life Masterclass 1

the Antidote to... accepting the status quo

On 6 June, Suzanne Duckett of The Antidote hosted a fascinating talk at Barnes’ Olympic Studios with three influential and inspiring School of Life speakers: J.P. Flintoff, Tom Chatfield and Anne Karpf.

John-Paul Flintoff, author of ‘How to Change the World’

We all want to live in a better world, but how exactly do we make a difference? John-Paul Flintoff reminds us that through history, society has been transformed by the actions of individuals who understood that if they didn’t like something, they could change it. In his book, he cites the need to recognise that we are all responsible for the way things are. He says, “If you put enough energy into your own efforts, soon enough others may find it impossible not to join you.” As Gandhi famously remarked: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Native American activist Leonard Peltier said, “We are each absolutely essential, each totally irreplaceable. Each of us is the swing vote in the bitter election battle now being waged between our best and our worst possibilities.” When it comes to changing our own worlds, he suggests brainstorming ideas and adopting a step-by-step approach to achieving the lifestyle we want.

As a former scuba diver, rat catcher, bin man, assistant undertaker and poet, J-P is living proof that we should embrace change and take a curious approach to life.

John-Paul Flintoff is an author, writer and broadcaster.

Anne Karpf, author of ‘How to Age’

In a society that has a deep mistrust and fear of the ageing process, it’s surely time to turn this on its head, embracing the enriching growth and wisdom that comes with the passing years. In her book, Anne rails against thinking that sees ageing as a biomedical problem, something to be avoided at all costs then vanished away by medicine. 

“I don’t believe in the concept of ‘ageing well’! It suggests that there’s also something called ‘ageing badly’ – this might be an exam I fail! I believe in ageing fully, and can’t break it down to three precepts but I’m a great believer in dancing – dancing into old age (even with my dodgy knee!).

I’ve learned that there’s no single way to age, or age fully, and that I like having people of all ages in my life.”

She argues that if we can recognise growing older as an inevitable part of the human condition, then the great challenge of ageing turns out to be none other than the challenge of living.

Anne Karpf is a writer and journalist, broadcaster, sociologist and academic (Reader in Professional Writing and Cultural Inquiry at London Metropolitan University). She has recently been awarded her PhD, “so now I’m Dr Karpf (great when people ask Mrs, Miss or Ms!)”

Tom Chatfield, author of ‘How to Thrive in the Digital Age’ (if you’re struggling to navigate this post, this is for you) 

With over half the world’s population now spending more of their waking hours ‘plugged in’ than not to phones, email, Facebook, internet, text, Twitter and blogging, Tom’s talk focused on three main elements of our relationship with technology, looking at what our wired life is really doing to our minds and cultures.

  • Willpower alone doesn’t cut it with technology: you need to build better habits and routines if you’re going to thrive.
  • There is no such thing as a neutral tool. Everything you use “wants” something from you – and you need to become a clever negotiator to make sure you get what you want too!
  • Nobody is perfect. To be human is to be flawed, tired, vulnerable. You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Try, keep improving, don’t give up because you’re imperfect.

He says, “The single biggest thing with the next generation, for me, is not hysterically lumping everyone born after the millennium in one big threatening uniform blob of “digital native” strangeness! You need to find ways of talking, unhysterically, about what people are actually doing – and struggling with – rather than what you fear or think they are doing. And you also need to look to yourself and, whether you’re a parent or employer or just someone on the street, try to model good behaviours. Don’t tell your kids they use tech too much while incessantly checking your work email on your phone. Be honest about your own struggles. Then try to do a little better, together.”

Dr Tom Chatfield is a British author, broadcaster and tech philosopher. His six books on digital culture are published in over two dozen languages. A faculty member at the School of Life, TED Global speaker and Visiting Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute, he’s interested in what it means to use technology well – and to thrive as well as survive in a digital age.

We have a series of further School of Life Masterclasses coming up, starting with Tristan Gooley on How to Connect with Nature on 4 July.