A Sufi story called ‘The scholar’ recounts the following:

“Nasrudin, ferrying a pedant across a piece of rough water, said something ungrammatical to him.

“Have you never studied grammar?” asked the scholar.


“Then half of your life has been wasted.”

A few minutes later Nasrudin turned to the passenger. “Have you ever learned how to swim?”

“No. Why?”

“Then all your life is wasted – we are sinking!”

This humorous tale invites us to reflect on the question: What do we really need to learn in order to live? We get told growing up that the things we learn in school are essential for our future, but in reality, they are not. Maths, Business, history etc. might be essential for getting a place in college but when out on the open sea of life this is not the knowledge that will help you survive and thrive. Unfortunately, nearly all the knowledge that we need to learn in order to be able to ‘swim’ through life are not taught in school, nor rarely spoke about in the culture. Schools aim to teach you how to earn a living, but not how to live.

What are these essentials then? They belong to the domain of what has traditionally been referred to as ‘the art of living’, or perhaps, simply, learning how to live a good life:

  • Finding a sense of meaning and purpose
  • Managing thoughts and emotions and dealing with adversity
  • Developing virtues like wisdom and compassion and becoming a good person
  • How to form and develop happy and harmonious relationships
  • How to find work that you love
  • Taking moral responsibility for the problems of the world and devoting one’s life to contributing towards the solutions

Without becoming proficient in these areas, we may bob along in our boat for years but, armed only with ‘technical knowledge’, we risk getting lost and floundering, and ultimately, being ill-equipped when the raft on which we depend for our survival starts sinking.