In Praise of Multiple Interests and trying to be a “Renaissance” person

It’s a unique time we live in. There are more libraries than ever in history — yet they become outdated the second they are completed because of the internet. Such a notion was in George Steiner’s Grammars of Creation. Likewise, more universities than ever and higher literacy rates than ever in history.

I remember watching a documentary interview in the 1980s with Mortimer Adler — evidently, France at the beginning of WWI made a national wide grammar test for the enlisted men. The result showed that less than 10% of the French population had basic grammatical skills and reading abilities. I imagine the US population had similar if not worse results at the time. Now 100 years later, almost everyone can “read”. It’s fairly remarkable.

Yes, but I also hear what you’re saying that it would be really useful from a practical perspective to concentrate all efforts on one single thing. Well, I say, what if Aristotle concentrated all his efforts in one field? Any field — grammar, science, biology, physics… Would we have lost so much from the wide breadth that Aristotle provided to the world?

But then again I think we’re living in a really lucky era. Over 100 years ago, the French military took a test of all the people who were drafted into the military for World War I. And, I think it turned out that less than 10% of the French population had basic grammatical skills. I imagine it was even less for the United States. But now we’ve taken almost our entire population and made everyone literate. Golden age with a lot of opportunities like the golden age of Athens where there is a vast amount of literate people who have a lot of free time on our hands as a society.

To be fair and sincerely honest, I do think it’s OK to spend your free time watching reality TV. It’s pretty fascinating in many respects. A lot of it is drafted in a unique way and if it is real it’s interesting to know how people have to navigate all these different personalities. It’s similar to the real world where we have to navigate different personalities and different people. The notion that reality TV is good for you is something I was persuaded of by a 2005 book by Steven Johnson. In Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter a non-fiction book authored by Steven Johnson, he makes compelling arguments that many bad things are really good for us. Among these are video games and reality TV among others.

In this same vein of thought, I remember reading Does Your Leadership Development Strategy Include World of Warcraft? by Paul Hemp in the Harvard Business Review. The article argued that playing games actually can be a vital asset in the business world. Paul Hemp writes:

That’s because certain games’ characteristics — non-monetary performance incentives, data transparency, temporary leadership roles that give people the chance to practice their leadership skills — make it easier to be an effective leader. One implication for real-world organizations: There may be large and untapped reservoirs of leadership talent that you don’t know you have.

The world is changing and education plays a big part.

By: Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV

Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV ©



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Charles Lincon

Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, Hegelian dialectics, Attic Greek, masters University of Amsterdam.