Kindness and politeness are not overrated at all. They’re underused
9th September 2021
Tommy Lee Jones
What is a good life? This is a question that philosophers and scholars of religion have explored for thousands of years. And as a teacher of religious studies it is one of the BIG questions around which many discussions take place in the classroom.
One answer which may be given is a picture of the ‘good life’ which includes a comfortable house, enough money for leisure pursuits, good health and stable happy relationships. There is much here which we would wish for ourselves and our children. It is a life in which the good life is a pleasurable one, a hedonic one.
However it fails to accommodate the unpredictability of life, which may scupper our best laid plans and in which the ‘goods’ accumulated don’t deliver the life satisfaction expected.
Greek philosopher Aristotle understood this and taught instead that the good life lay in human flourishing, a person becoming the best version of themselves through the cultivation of virtues. This is a eudaemonic view of happiness.
Unfortunately, as contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton has written, being virtuous conjures up all sorts of negative connotations: of piety, solemnity …’etc ‘ And yet the project of being good is as vital, or even more important, than the project of being healthy’.
While Aristotle thought being good meant practicing twelve virtues, Christianity names seven, Alain de Botton has proposed ten. And it is those ten which will form the basis of Wychwood’s ‘Thoughts for the Week’ over the coming term.
And so we start with Politeness. There is perhaps something old- fashioned sounding about this and I’m sure we all grew up being told to say ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’. It is a sign of my age perhaps, that it means more to me than it used to! Some may object saying such conventions are ‘fake’ and saying ‘thankyou’ when you don’t really feel it, goes against being ‘really ourselves’. However it shows concern for another’s feelings when we are polite and arguably manners are the ‘necessary internal rules of civilization’. Politeness is also linked to tolerance, the capacity to live alongside people with whom we may never agree, but at the same time can’t avoid.
And so this week we will reflect on politeness in both our words and actions, so that at the beginning of this new school year we can happily coexist within the wonderfully diverse community that is Wychwood School.