The Renaissance Man or Woman is a polymath or someone with expertise in a wide variety of subjects. It was considered a compliment and a perfectly natural way of life a century or two back. You didn't stop learning, you were capable in the homily trades and, after you had studied one field, you expanded your knowledge into other areas of science, music, math, to develop a well-rounded mind. This was not something to be sneered at but a goal you wanted to achieve. More importantly, you took pride in your accomplishments and responsibility for your mistakes.
Today, being able to do many things is often sneered at, as though the person is so diversified they are willy-nilly about life and can't accomplish anything of value. The focus is on singular abilities, working within a team, and no one taking responsibility for mistakes because it was a group effort. We have become a country of singularly-trained people who can't even exercise without someone else telling them when to bend over and doing the counting for them.
In a rather convoluted way, writers fall into this stew of knowing much to-do but little how-to. 'Write about what you know' doesn't really mean you have to physically do everything you refer to in a story but that you've researched it enough so that you do know what you're talking about. In an Internet world where web sites have the singular purpose of finding fault and making sure the world knows about it, anything less than strong research from reliable sources would be very foolish, indeed.
Want to have some fun? Try this: Write a paragraph about flying a store-bought kite. Next, make a kite from scratch, fly it, then write a paragraph about flying that kite. In a hundred ways, this exercise highlights the difference between knowledge and experience. Can we do everything for ourselves, today, and still live in the 21st Century? Not really. You would never leave your home. But, that doesn't mean you can't do much of what needs to be done for yourself. The tools and resources are there and waiting for you to make use of them.
Without tolling the bell for utter disaster, I believe there's going to come a time when people are going to have to, once again, rely on themselves, kith and kin, to take care of the basics. Will we run out of energy? Not in many lifetimes, but we are going to run out of people with the capability to do the basics should the worst happen, if we don't stop belittling the trades.
It's heartening to see that there is a movement afoot to bring back the old skills. They call it 'greening.' It's really nothing more than being able to care for one's own. So many young adults have no idea what it means to pull their own weight within a family, developing the self-esteem that comes from being needed. "Oh, I want my child to have a happy childhood!" A noble thought, but, that's throwing out the baby with the bath water. You have to raise children to live in an adult world and, what you don't teach at the knee, you'll never accomplish in the teens. Every stage in a human's life is preparation for adulthood and a place within their community. Thinking anything less, to me, smacks of a sense of self-importance that boggles the mind.
Women have been Janes-of-all-Trades since the beginning of time. Today, it's called multi-tasking and it has become a goal in the male-dominated business world, mostly, within the last thirty years. Computers are visible on more bosses' desks, as they interact with customers and clients. Lawyers are able to set up offices without support staff, outsourcing only the phone services and payroll tasks. And, honestly, I've often wondered how much trouble the world would have been in, had our bankers and financiers been made to do more than just focus on how to merge companies into conglomerates, acquire more money, and taking a piece of everybody's pie. Sometimes, there's just too much time available to single-tasking that can be just as dangerous as an idle mind.
You don't have to know everything about everything; but, unless it's going to be your source of income, focusing on just one thing isn't necessarily the best thing, either. To me, the resourceful person can survive all the ups and downs of a lifetime. It seems to me that becoming a 21st Century Reneaissance Man/Woman could be quite liberating! What do you think?
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