Everyone has such moments: 'I didn't know what to say!' Times when you are silenced - overwhelmed with embarrassment - because someone confronts you with a situation, and you have no idea how to respond. It may be a friend, a colleague or a stranger. You may be at work, in a bar or under the duvet. It may be a matter of love or death, a question of honesty or belief. And the worst thing is - you then say the wrong thing. 'What Not To Say' takes those situations, unpacks them with philosophy, and - with some understanding gained - explores the do's and don'ts. Why philosophy? Because philosophy has always been gripped by questions of life. It was Socrates who first raised the question of how to live. He launched a tradition that sees life not as a problem to be solved, but as an art. It focuses on empathy with intelligence. For those who are a little tired of feel-good self-help, or a little wary of too much psycho-babble, it offers an alternative based on the reality of cool analysis and genuine insight. 'What Not To Say' is witty and thought-provoking, and whilst never moralising, does have a serious aim.
First, to enable readers to speak more truthfully in difficult situations. Second, to allow readers to talk about personal problems in a wider perspective that can often ease the pain. Third, to gain greater clarity when discussing what to do in the future: to ask the question, How to live? In short, it is an aid in the search for the right and wise thing to say.
Formerly an Anglican priest, Mark Vernon is an Honorary Research Fellow in Philosophy at Birkbeck College, London.