The Fleeting Glory of the Modern Renaissance Man

Jackie Milestone
News Editor

Imagine yourself living in 1500 A.D. Though it is a bit difficult, you might find yourself in a similar position today, at least when it comes to education and expectation. At the peak of the Renaissance Age in Europe, a brand new thirst for knowledge was emerging. In school, one learned a multitude of subjects from art to rhetoric. In order to become the ideal Renaissance gentleman at the time, one would have had to be fluent in more than just your native tongue, be learned in ancient Greek and Roman literature, speak and write eloquently, play a bit of quality music, be able to hold a sophisticated debate, and perhaps have a base knowledge in fencing or painting too.
That certainly sounds like a lot, but it may not be that far from home. Perhaps, as a Harriton student, you are involved in a sport and a creative or academic club (possibly more than one) on top of the music, dance, or kickboxing lessons that you take outside of school. And let us not discredit the fact that, while excelling at these extracurricular activities, you are also expected to be getting high grades in your English, math, history, foreign language, and science classes. Perhaps the pressure to become the ideal Renaissance man (or woman, nowadays) has never left us at all. If anything, these demands have only increased as more knowledge is discovered throughout the world.
But there is an inherent difference between modern expectations and those accepted 500 years ago:
The ideal Renaissance man living during the Renaissance would be assumed to use all his talents throughout his life. He would have learned everything with good reason and would not put it to waste. He would write, speak, debate, perform, paint, etc. as his years progressed. It does seem a bit ironic that today, though we are expected to know more, we are also expected to use less. Just as soon as you master all your knowledge bases and walk out of high school with a proud diploma in hand, the elimination process begins. Suddenly you are urged from all sides to cut back on your varied intellect and just choose one specific area for all your attention. It is difficult enough to be even a double major in college and entirely unthinkable to master all five of the courses from your first twelve years of education that had been spoon fed and clamped into your mouth until you learned to like it.
The question at hand is not why we are forced to become masters of so many educational areas, for that question can be easily answered and affirmed by the importance of eradicating ignorance and exploring multiple realms for future self-progression. Rather, the question is why must we choose but one field?
If I am asked to excel in such a number of areas, I want to live in a society that will allow me to pursue every one of those areas if I so choose, and not one that tries to whittle me down until I have room for only one interest. Yes, I admit, I would like to be Barbie; I would like to be a pilot and a firefighter and musician and an astronaut all in the same lifetime. I only wish I lived in a world that celebrates such diverse curiosity instead of one that condemns it.
My best and only suggestion is to not fall into the trap of the culture. Do not force yourself to pursue fields that need not be pursued if they hold no interest for you, but venture after all the things that you love best. And when someone tells you to cut back on your beloved hobbies, you ask them if they would have asked Da Vinci to cut back on his hobbies. And if they say that you are not Da Vinci, be sure to make them realize that you could be if given the proper opportunity.