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.
- Robert Heinlein
Long before Heinlein outlined his vision of humanity’s potential, there was a concept known as “The Renaissance Man”. It was the framework for the ideal person – A socially adept individual who possessed knowledge in all fields, excelled in the arts and pursued physical mastery. Their expertise knew no boundaries.
To call the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, Gallileo and Francis Bacon ”well-rounded” would be an insult to the broad scope of their accomplishments. Yet to try and become the next Michelangelo in our highly diversified world would be an exercise in futility. To master the breadth of knowledge in even one field takes a lifetime of scholarly pursuit. Simply put, the Renaissance Man of the 21st century is a different being altogether.
Exploration. Sadly, it’s a word that seems to have lost its power in our recently global world. A semester-long foray into Europe is considered adventurous by most, but reconsider some of the most courageous people in history: those who boarded ships, caravans, or wagons and traveled into completely uncharted territory, with absolutely no bearing on what to expect. They returned, alive and well, usually having discovered something fantastic. I challenge you to enter into your own “uncharted territory.” It will teach you to evolve and adapt to new surroundings, read your environment, and hopefully will help you acquire the taste for more serious exploration.
AN ART OR MUSIC COURSE
I remember the first time I looked at the required courses I needed to graduate from college. Much to my dismay, my arch-nemisis, Fine Arts, made the list. I looked around in despair for someone, anyone that would hear my plea, “I read books. I write. I’ll even do math if you make me. But please, not Art!”
I found myself sitting in “History of Jazz” in my final year of college; the class that beat out “Modern Dance”, “Art History” and “Fundamentals of Lighting” by just a hair. Despite my best efforts, I ended up enjoying the class. It broadened my horizons beyond anything that I would have chosen for my academic schedule(or anything else I might have done in my free time for that matter ).Maybe you can make art, and maybe you can’t. If your school is anything like mine, there are a multitude of options that focus on interpretation and appreciation rather than creation of art. Whatever course you choose, it will surely stretch and massage your mind in new ways. If your lucky, it might instill a passion for something you never would have found yourself enjoying otherwise.
PUBLIC SPEAKING / DECLAMATION or THEORIES OF RHETORIC
It is a recent phenomenon that these classes have disappeared from our schools. Everyone from the Greeks to our grandfathers studied the fine art of Rhetoric, and for good reason. The ability to communicate persuasively and effectively is a talent that will prove fruitful in many of life’s experiences. Whether you want to become a better student, improve your ability to discourse effectively, or understand how others inform, persuade and motivate, Rhetoric can help you achieve your goal.
Rhetoric and debate classes are a fast solution to recognizing those who employ faulty logic and outrageous arguments. Your newfound powers of communication will also help you recognize when other people are using rhetoric for their gain. Politicians, advertisers, and skilled orators will all try and make you see things their way. Being able to recognize these tricks and respond articulately is an essential part of fostering intelligent debate, and also ensuring you aren’t parted from your hard-earned money.
Mark Twain once said, “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” A man well-versed in rhetoric demands the respect of his peers and will ensure he is never taken for a fool. Yelling, logical fallacies and their ilk are the mark of a man who presents himself poorly to the world. Once these undesirable practices are removed from a discussion, it’s easier for people to actually listen to what’s being said. Even if you don’t “win” the argument, you can still walk about with your head held high. You might even find yourself walking away convinced of something new.
SOMETHING PHYSICAL (martial arts, fencing, swimming, anything really)
There is a famous Latin saying, “Mens sana in corpore sano”. Translated, it means, ” a healthy mind in a healthy body.” Good physical health begets good mental health, and college is the best time to cultivate good exercise habits. This isn’t 5th grade any more; exercise isn’t a manditory part of your education. Your well-being is in your own hands. Lucky for you, Colleges have spent millions of dollars providing students with free, state-of-the-art fitness centers and as a result, this is the only time in your life when you will have free access to professional fitness equipment and educational gym classes.
You don’t have to be the most physically fit person; there are an assortment of classes like yoga, martial arts, racket-ball or swimming that can accommodate practically any interest that you might have. Recess and gym class are a thing of the past, and you are going to have to find out how to keep yourself fit. The good new is that doing so will be one of the best decisions you ever make.
MACRO or MICRO ECONOMICS
Simply put, economics is the study of how people choose to use resources.Our government, our laws and our daily interactions are all guided, in part, by economic forces. Studying economics will increase your understanding of how the world works by bolstering a world view that can now examine business, trade, and governmental policy in a more cohesive way. It will also make you a more rational and informed consumer.Despite what most people think, economics can be fun, it can be enlightening, and it can help you in your everyday life. Besides, in what other class will you learn about something called the men’s underwear index?
SOCIAL or BALLROOM DANCING (Get out of your comfort zone)
Although the heading says Social/ Ballroom Dancing, this suggestion shouldn’t relegate itself to any particular course. The point is to take a course that is gender unbalanced or something out of your comfort zone.
As for Ballroom Dancing, I recall watching old Bond movies and thinking to myself, “The Tango is kind of sexy.” The only dancing experience I had was a bit of Salsa learned from a friend before his sister’s Quinceañera (kind of like a sweet-sixteen), so in an effort to cultivate my Bonditude I signed myself up for Ballroom dancing. The first day, I walked into a room packed with 36 women and 4 men. An intimidating number, no doubt – but I soon found myself attuned to the curious admiration of my female classmates. For that reason alone, I considered the class a success.
College provides students with the opportunity to learn about new and exciting things. It would be a shame to look back and ruminate on what could have been.
“A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are built for.”
-John A. Shedd