Our culture has kind of let the concept of the Renaissance Man die out. We don't really tell the kids that it's okay to bounce around the world, work odd jobs, and do six different things.
As we move through the world, we have to wonder one of the greatest mysteries of the modern era, one that is challenging social thinkers today. What is that question?
Why are there so many small minded and selfish people around?
Yes, I know I just disappointed many with such a simple comment, but the reality is small-mindedness seems to be an epidemic. It is the core reason for ignorance, racism, sexism, and almost every other –ism. And that got me thinking, why? What is it within today’s society that promotes this idea, and what is it that those who are not petty have in common?
You might think it’s a question of having values or virtues or even character. Not really. Most petty men are convinced that they have values and character. And who are we to question that believe. Their problem is how their world is too small. Their mentality usually is “If it doesn’t affect me, it’s not a problem.” But again, why has this mentality grown? Can we not just google the effects of a problem, review the reactions of people, or even discuss our opinions with anyone, anywhere?
Because society, as it is now, has created a paradox of specialists and polymathists.
Society tells people they need to train and to focus in learning more and more about their chosen subject, and that’s how they will succeed. The end result is we have people who know a lot about very little. It creates a contracting mentality, where people focus only on what affects them. “A man trained only with a hammer will treat everything like a nail.”
I am sorry to tell you this but specialization, like the person who refuses to travel, promotes small mindedness and selfishness.
We have to learn to view the vast world of topics we live in, the vast variety of people. We must be willing to view the “Big Picture.” It’s not that they learn a little bit of everything, but rather a lot about everything. They just choose not to specialize in a single topic. These are the Polymathists, the correct term for Renaissance Men.
A polymath (Greek: "having learned much") is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. The term is often used to describe those great thinkers of the Renaissance and the Golden Age of Islam, each of whom excelled at several fields in science and the arts.
The idea of the polymath best described as “a man can do all things if he will." If man is limitless in their capacity for development, why are we so willing to build walls we cannot climb? Why do we limit ourselves? Why do we say we are geeks, and disdain anything outside that circle of knowledge? Why will the jock avoid the arts or the artist avoid science? We need to learn about everything to develop our body, our mind and our spirit. We must become worldly, or more so, universal.
The easiest cop-out is to think of yourself incapable of reaching such levels. But honestly, there is no easier time to aim for such ambitions. The world's knowledge is at your fingertips. I leave you with the following quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.