hide

Read Next

Mountains are not mountains

From an essay on Zen --

The sword as an art easily fits a Taoist paradigm, articulated through the kôan of a Chinese master, who said that before he ever studied Ch'an, he always thought that mountains were just mountains. Then when he began studying, he found that mountains were not mountains (a typical Taoist paradox). After long study, he stopped worrying about this and mountains went back to being mountains again. This easily describes the stages of reaching enlightenment through meditation, but it can also describe the stages of learning an art or skill, not just something like the sword, but even very humble skills.

For instance, learning to drive an automobile with a clutch, which cannot be done without some instruction, actually involves a very simple rule: (1) step on the clutch, (2) put the engine in gear, and (3) slowly step on the gas pedal and the release the clutch at the same time. This simple procedure always turns out to be very difficult to effect. It takes, not more instruction, but just constant practice. Eventually, it becomes easy, smooth, and natural, and the driver simply forgets about it, doing it automatically, which is good, since a driver needs to look where he is going. Learning the use of a sword has an added aspect that a completely ignorant person can still pick up a sword and, in general, know what to do with it. Such a person can even be dangerous, since in a fight he will be desperate and there is no telling what they might do. Someone who receives instruction, however, is endangered by their own concentration on the techniques they are learning. They may even be a worse swordsman than the ignorant person, until the techniques become natural and automatic. This is easily explained by the circumstance that ignorance is much more like "not-doing" than is the "doing," effort, and trying of the stage of instruction.

Generally Speaking

On Casual Friday in Serioustown

[caption id="attachment_99" align="alignright" width="288"] Leonardo DaVinci, one of history's great Generalists created a little painting called "The Mona Lisa"[/caption]

Lebron James is a beloved individual (outside of Cleveland). He parties, he endorses stuff, and he certainly isn’t short on cash and why is this? Because he’s spectacularly good at one thing. The man is debatably one of the best basketball players of all time and it’s clearly paying dividends. Society is riddled with examples like this; individuals who excel above and beyond others at a single thing. We are also taught, frequently, that hard-work and studious effor in one particular endeavor will make us exceptional individuals.

But growing up, one of my favorite concepts was the “Renaissance Man”. While politically incorrect, the concept was that an admirable quality in a person was possession of… well… all admirable qualities. These individuals would study math, science, history, art, language, and politics, never mastering one but acquiring a deep and interested knowledge of all of them. In a society of specialists and specialized economies, this is a concept that, unfortunately, has fallen by the wayside.

But I’m here to carry its standard. A recent article on 99u entitled Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist noted the myriad benefits to scientific and creative professionals that stem from a broad range of knowledge. The understanding of many topics allows one to draw analogies in other topics, spurring creativity and innovation. Even on a personal level, the idea of being a Generalist is a powerful one. When you think of adjectives to describe yourself or a list of your favorite hobbies, do they all follow a streamlined career or interest path? No. You love many things and so do I.

So embrace that. Get curious and learn about everything that interests you. Do it patiently and with conviction and see the world the way it was meant to be seen: as a proud and sophisticated Renaissance person. You’ll be more interesting and more interested, see and learn things you never thought you would, and enrich your life. Wave your standard high brethren and tell the man where to shove it in two different languages, three different mediums, and with a well-written but emotionally subtle haiku.

Rendering New Theme...