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Have you heard of the human library?

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I stumbled across the human library the other day.

I’d never heard of it, but the idea is that instead of borrowing a book, you borrow a human and listen to their life story. It’s a conversation over a table, and you learn how they became who they are. You sit with them for thirty minutes with the goal being to fight prejudice. Each person has a title such as unemployed, bipolar, transgender, refugee and more. Listening to their stories is designed to avoid people judging a book by its cover.

The movement started in 2000 in Denmark, and is now working in over 80 countries around the world. It’s such a great idea. I love it.

So, I wondered what the story would be if you sat down with someone labelled Banker for thirty minutes, and I think the conversation would go something like this:

Hi, my name is Will, and I’ve been an investment banker for the past ten years, but I lost my job last year. This is because I burned out. I tried hard to keep up with the 18 hours a day culture of the bank, but my body could only manage 14. That’s why I lost out. After all, you need to sleep for a few hours and have a life outside the bank, but that’s not the way it works.

The good news is that by working 18 hours a day, I earned a lot of money. I earnt so much that I have three houses; a spouse, a partner and another one we don’t talk about; holidays worldwide at 5* hotels, as well as a few million dollars of assets hidden in near-shore islands.

It was a good life for a person in their twenties, but then I was laid off. I guess it was due to the drink and drugs, or maybe the expenses. Taking clients to strip clubs, and listing my cocaine as a valid part of entertainment expenses didn’t go down well. I should have hidden it better.

And now, I am so down as I am only working here, for free, for eight hours a day. It’s pretty awful. I meet people like you – normal people – and realise that you are not normal. What is normal? My normal is not your normal. My normal is throwing a few million dollars as a bet on a trade, followed by an evening of champagne and meth. Yours? You look like you just eat at McDonalds and drink coffee. How dull.

You’re probably wondering what I want to do now?

Well, I could retire, but I’ve decided to help people like you. That’s why I’m here at the Human Library. I want to be human again.

When I worked at the bank, I stopped being human. I was more like that guy in American Psycho – have you seen that film? It’s about a guy in a bank who feels that people who are homeless are worthless, so he kills them. Obviously, it is a total fiction. I mean no one in their right mind would do that, would they?

Thing is that I quite like this film. It stars Christian Bale who had days like mine: working over-the-top; doing drink and drugs over-the-top; delivering over-the-top results for the bank every day; and then getting caught out. I won’t spoil the ending, but the book and film are interesting as it’s nothing like working for a bank in real-life, is it? I mean what banker would kill someone for fun …

At this point, the conversation ended as the listener no longer had their head attached … but of course, this is all a fiction isn’t it.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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