Early in life I learned the term “Renaissance Man.” It sounded cool.
Renaissance man (from Dictionary.com)
1. a cultured man of the Renaissance who was knowledgeable, educated, or proficient in a wide range of fields.
2. a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.
I wanted to be a Renaissance Woman. Since then, I have sought out new learning experiences on a regular basis. This year I enrolled in a local government program called City Academy. Every week myself and 25 other city residents gather to learn how our city works; from Emergency Response to Water and Sewer to Budgets and Boards and on and on. It is incredible how much there is to know and how people can see the same information from different perspectives.
Engaging with the world in new ways and through different perspectives is incredibly illuminating and energizing. It can also be confusing and frustrating. Turns out that if I focus on being curious and understanding something, I feel great. On the other hand if I feel like what I know (or, more often think I know) is challenged, then I start defending my perspective. This often takes the shape of arguing someone out of their position. This means that rather than understanding something else – I try to enforce something that makes sense to me. These kinds of experiences make me reflect enough to articulate my perspective – but the driver is to convince, not gaining understand. If the other person also feels strongly, I get an earful about a different perspective. Eventually I begin to see another perspective and sometimes the value of it. In the end, despite myself, I may gain a better understanding of the topic at hand, but the journey is slower and takes more energy than had I just focused on being curious from the get-go.
As we increasingly face challenges so unwieldy we have to rally together (across differences) to tackle them, we have two choices. We can learn how to see things from multiple perspectives, figuring out what we can let go of and what we can’t, accepting that doing so may need a little more footwork on our part to understand. Or, we can add more complexity to the task by approaching it with a close-minded mentality. I’m convinced that the former will aide me on my quest to become a Renaissance Woman, and likely earn me many allies along the way. The later, well, it may get me there – eventually – but the “wide range” of knowledge is going to be greatly hindered, and obtained at a snail’s pace.