If you ask people what kind of age we live in today at some point most people will at least mention the information explosion that’s occurred via the internet. Today we know more than we ever had before. Average human knowledge doubles about every 13 months. Pretty amazing isn’t it?
Obviously no one can keep up with this accumulation of knowledge. So that’s leading us, some would say forcing us, to focus on knowing a lot about a little, or as we like to call it, specializing. Today both the job market and our higher educational infrastructure is aimed more and more at specialized knowledge. So we are producing a lot of people who know a whole lot about very little.
I for one don’t think that’s a good idea.
That’s not to say I’m not specialized too, because I am. Just about everyone is. In my career I have to focus on certain types of knowledge just as a mechanic does in his or a doctor does in her career. If you’re going to do your job well you have to keep up on what’s going on in your field and then figure out how to apply that in your particular situation.
I’m not saying specialization by itself is a bad thing. What I am suggesting is that your life will be much poorer if you don’t try and develop as much knowledge of as many things as you can. If you lock yourself into one or two little categories of knowledge you are robbing yourself of much that could make your life, and the lives of those around you, so much better.
This is something we have seemed to have forgotten in all this knowledge doubling. There was a time, not that long ago, when being a “well rounded individual” was considered a compliment (and they weren’t referring to your waistline or weight when they said that either!).
Anyone remember the term “Renaissance Man?” That meant someone who knew a lot about almost everything (and yes, it refers to women as well, “man” equals person not male.) Of course that was a lot easier to do during the Renaissance (1300-1600) than it is today, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for it anyway.
Developing a general knowledge is, without a doubt, a good thing. Where do you think the term General comes from? Our English word comes from a Latin term that meant “type or kind.” But it developed into something that was broad or wide ranging. Thus we have Generals in command of Armies because they know a lot about all the military sciences, not just specialists in a few.
If you only learn what you have to for your job, or what you enjoy in your hobby, you are missing much. Developing a broad knowledge helps you understand people and life in general. The more I understand about the world around me and why it is the way it is the better chance I have at having a better perspective on things.
That’s why I encourage people, especially young people, to travel into other cultures and to spend significant time there. Not to just do the tourist thing but to see how people really live in most of the world. Learn what their lives are like, what they believe and how they view the world, and see if that doesn’t make you much more grateful about your life here in the USA.
Our culture desperately needs an influx of well-rounded people. People who know their history and the history of those around us. People who at least have a basic grasp of what actually works in the world and why it works. People who see beyond their own little niche and value what’s going on around them.
Excessive specialization impoverishes us because it robs us of a broader perspective that can give so much in our lives. Reading old, even ancient, literature gives us not just history but an idea of what people used to value and believe. We need that kind of perspective to become truly mature (well-rounded) people.
So let’s raise our heads, look around, deliberately look into things we haven’t before, and see what’s really out there. You will be surprised and you might be delighted. Even if you’re bored at least you’ll have learned something new and stirred up that brain of yours.
And that’s always a good thing.
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Louie Marsh is pastor of Christ’s Church on the River on the Parker Strip. Visit his website HERE.