What fascinated me most was Churchill as a young child. He had a kind of Dickensian childhood. The neglect. And he was a terrible student. His whole life is a study in trying to overcome your feelings of inadequacy. – John Lithgow
I said I probably wouldn’t write about the fourth chapter of Alain de Botton’s book The consolations of philosophy but I’ve changed my mind.
The reason I thought I’d skip it is because it covers areas that are not nice to read about as part of an essay on inadequacy.
The problem is one of how people in history have treated other people because they were different – lesser than them.
And it’s happened all over the world, all across time – from South America to Africa to Europe and Asia and Australasia.
The scars of these histories are still visible today – just pick a country – it seems unfair to single out one and there will be something in their history people now wish was simply forgotten.
The good thing is that it now is unlikely that such things will be forgotten – the Internet has a long memory and gives people a voice when they did not have one.
Some of those stories are ones you may not wish to hear.
Right now, for example, with young children and knowing what we now know- I am unable to pick up a book in the library that has letters that Jewish children living in ghettos wrote during the war.
I know it’s there, and must be read – but later.
But my reason for writing about this chapter is that it introduces a French philosopher, Montaigne, who wrote about how important it was that we understand one another.
It is easy to see anything different as worse – and that is how people have seen things for most of history.
In some ways that is a natural, instinctive way to look at the world.
It’s natural and instinctive to see your country being filled up with foreigners and feeling like you’re being pushed out.
And that’s why it’s wrong.
If you want to be a “good” person they you have to fight against what is your natural and instinctive reaction to things – a reaction based on what you think is normal and abnormal based on what you have learned and been exposed to.
And Montaigne pointed out that they only way you can do that is by learning more about other people, other cultures and other ways of doing things.
In any situation you will have some people that are in charge, in control, this is their space.
And you will have others that try to fit in – but feel small, marginalised, without a voice, facing a glass ceiling or outright antagonism and violence.
Who feel inadequate.
And this happens to individuals as well – the inadequacy that affects us when we see people living perfect lives on social media – when we see others that seem to be doing much better than we are.
Montaigne points out that respect or value seems to come from people who are furthest away from you.
To your family you are an eccentric – while to someone on the other side of the world your words might be life changing.
Now one solution to the inequity in life and society is for the majority, the winners to make place for the minority, the marginalised.
Some places do this – and some places fight it and depending on where you live – you take the opportunity or you live with the injustice.
But if you are lucky you have something now that almost no one had in the past.
You have the ability to get a voice – a global one.
And one can hope that when we hear these voices we will be more open to change.
Let’s be real about this – you will have some people build walls and ignore the evidence – fight against any suggestion that they or their ancestors did anything wrong.
And you will have others that accept what happened and try to make a difference.
For example, this article analyses Japan’s history and suggests that what is needed in such situations is a permanent way of memorialising and apologising for national crimes – in law, in education, and in culture.
But while you’re waiting being able to tell your story is one way of dealing with what has happened.
What we should be doing is teaching people the right way to treat others.
You’ve all heard of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
What’s actually needed, but less well known, is the platinum rule.
“Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”