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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Alan de Botton's Ten Commandments for Atheists

Posted by Alison Hallett on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 10:44 AM

Writer Alan de Botton just released a list of Ten Commandments for Atheists, which is a flashy title for what boils down to a non-religiously based list of ways to be less of a dick to other people. I particularly like the entries for "humour" (BRITS!) and "politeness."

My favorite definition of "a sense of humor" still belongs to Dave Barry: "A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge." Botron's on to something too, though, with "disappointment optimally channelled":

Seeing the funny sides of situations and of oneself doesn’t sound very serious, but it is integral to wisdom, because it’s a sign that one is able to put a benevolent finger on the gap between what we want to happen and what life can actually provide; what we dream of being and what we actually are, what we hope other people will be like and what they are actually like. Like anger, humour springs from disappointment, but it’s disappointment optimally channelled. It’s one of the best things we can do with our sadness.

And it's nice to see "politeness" on the list. Hipster culture has really done a number on politeness; at some point self-describing as "awkward" became not just permissible but "adorkable," a mea culpa thrown out by girls in large sweaters to excuse their unwillingness to make conversation with people who aren't exactly like them. (I will be sending my children to finishing school.)

Politeness has a bad name. We often assume it’s about being “fake” (which is meant to be bad) as opposed to “really ourselves” (which is meant to be good). However, given what we’re really like deep down, we should spare others too much exposure to our deeper selves. We need to learn “manners”, which aren’t evil – they are the necessary internal rules of civilisation. Politeness is very linked to tolerance, the capacity to live alongside people with whom one will never agree, but at the same time, can’t avoid.

Read the whole piece over here.

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