In the western world, we’ve gravitated towards a hyper-individualized culture. In many ways, this has been an improvement: we pay more attention to mental health, work-life balance and self-actualization. Somewhere along the way, however, in realizing that our needs and views are important, we dubbed them more important than everyone else’s. Opinion is given like fact and disagreement never comes in mild form. We’ve lost skills like active listening and respectful debate. While freedom of speech is a precious right, not all speech is created equal—especially when speaking from an uninformed position. In a world of politically-charged profiles and hard-set opinions, how do we find a way to broaden our perspective? Amidst the mudslinging and outrage, how do we encourage openness, grace and understanding?
One of the best ways to do this is pursuing a Renaissance (Wo)man lifestyle.* Alternatively known as a polymath, it’s someone with expertise in numerous, unrelated fields. One of history’s most famous examples was Leonardo da Vinci with his diverse interest in architecture, science, astronomy, botany, art and more. He oscillated between creating astonishing inventions to painting sublime masterpieces.
While Leonardo was clearly a genius, I’m suggesting a humbler sort of renaissance. I’m simply suggesting we wander outside of our normal spheres of experience. The value of polymaths doesn’t come from the number of facts they know, it comes from the variety of perspectives they have. The advantage comes from weaving different subject matter into a comprehensive, global understanding of the world. There’s a certain creativity and openness that comes from a multifaceted approach to learning.The value of polymaths isn't found in solely the facts they know, it comes from the variety of perspectives they have. Click To Tweet
Bring on the Lenses
While we can’t all be geniuses, we can all broaden our horizons. Perspective dictates which conclusions we draw, and as such, it’s the lens through which we see the world. We can compare it to a camera: the lens can be changed at any time, a new one clicking in place to give us a different perspective of what’s in front of us. A variety of lenses could be used in the same situation, although each highlights a different part. For instance, in a nature scene, a zoom lens would be used to focus in on minuscule dew drops forming on leaves, a telephoto lens would take in the hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, and a wide-angle lens would allow the entire landscape of flora and fauna to be captured. In a similar way, diverse knowledge serves as different types of lenses, providing extra clarity in complex situations. More lenses equals more insight.
Let’s imagine a discussion on unemployment. Approaching this subject from an economic perspective results in a very different discussion than if we approach it from a sociological perspective. The economics buff might mention job creation, supply and demand, and minimum wage while the social worker might highlight family dynamics, class/race factors, and education levels. Neither side is right or wrong, just incomplete. By acknowledging gaps in knowledge and “attaching” various lenses, we’re better able to complete the picture.
Put on your thinking cap
The concept is similar to a brainstorming technique developed by Edward de Bono. He created a framework that includes “six thinking hats,” each one symbolizing a different type of decision-making strategy. The hats range from optimism (identifying benefits) to judgment (assessing problems) to emotions (following instincts). We have tendencies to one or another, so the obligation to “put on” the other hats enables us to generate original ideas that otherwise would have been missed. By imagining different perspectives, we construct a creative, dynamic mind space.
This decision-making strategy can be applied easily to everyday events. By promoting lateral thinking, we broaden our views, increase our connectivity, and spark ideas. Knowledge in the realms of science, history, psychology, sociology, and gerontology present an objective look at the world, while religion, philosophy, literature and art give us a more subjective idea of differing experiences. By exploring these areas, we develop a well-rounded base of knowledge, learning more about ourselves and those around us.
Check in for the next blog where we’ll be exploring why these fields of study are worth learning about. I’ll share a few insightful books, videos and podcasts that I’ve found helpful or thought-provoking.
1. How do you prefer to learn? Books, articles, videos, podcasts?
2. What’s an area of interest that you haven’t yet explored?
* Other than traveling and immersing oneself in different neighbourhoods and cultures