When I was seven years old I was sent to a boarding school. There I was cheek by jowl with the other little boys, sharing ice-cold baths in the morning and crammed into small rooms with eight other boys, teasing and being teased. There was no privacy whatsoever.
On to the next school at 13, which was precisely the same, except the bullying had been institutionalised over four hundred years. The little boys ran errands for the senior boys, you never cried in front of anyone and you were expected to excel at rugby, cricket and field hockey. Contrary to popular expectation I never came across any hint of sexual harassment (or sexual activity. Even smiling at a girl from the nearby girl’s boarding school was a reason for expulsion), Life at school was lonely misery. The objective was to toughen a generation and erase messy emotion so that the kids could go on to be tough managers without misgivings.
After that I had two years in the Army, under canvas and in acute discomfort, commanding 45 men on active service, and, again, cheek by jowl with my men, with whom I had absolutely zero in common, but from whom I learned so much about man management and the importance of humour.
The above is a background to the reasons why I am now running this blog. An average little boy (me) had to work out a means of survival that did not involve running home to Mum and Dad (Heaven forfend!). I worked out in my little brain that everyone else was suffering too in this great concentration camp, designed to have you grin and bear almost anything. Others too needed a sympathetic pair of ears, real conversations about real feelings, and I reckoned if I offered them, along with a good laugh, I would win friends.
I went to chapel every day when little, and have nothing against moderate, organised religion. But it seemed to me that inter-personal relationships were key, developing empathy, trying to put yourself in the shoes of others, keeping your word to the very best of your ability, treating subordinates, workers, acquaintances and suppliers fairly and decently, and being moderate in all things – these were the priority for a life that you could look back on with (moderate) pride, a sort of Christianity without the supernatural, the priests, Hell and Damnation.
Years later I read the extant writings of Epicurus and immediately related to the words and thoughts. These are the very principles I’ve worked out for myself, I thought, without a single course in philosophy or prompting from my betters. As a result, this is my 2,500th posting on a blog that tries to apply Epicurean principles to modern issues.