On Being a Successful Human

19 Nov

I admit that I’m an old math and sciences guy, and my career followed the technical track.  However, the more I have aged, the more I have appreciated the value of the humanities, discipline I absolutely shunned in college.  I don’t think I’ve seen the value statement put quite as effectively (in few words, that is) as Kevin Cool put it a short piece in the most recent issue of the magazine Stanford.

A couple of excerpts from Cool’s essay:

“We need people who know how to write computer code, build space rockets and perform heart surgery.  All of these are important and desirable skills.  What humanities education provides that these don’t, necessarily, is a handle on what we value (philosophy), what mistakes we’ve learned from (history), how to understand other cultures (comparative literature) and how to interpret and describe what we encounter from day to day (English).  You know, how to be a successful human.  .  .  .

“Education is for life, not just for the first five years out of school.  And the humanities are great investments for the long term.  They teach you to think critically, measure nuance, calibrate tradeoffs and make a persuasive argument.  .  .  .”

My own life’s walk has been slowly transformed from reading (and enjoying) technical texts and manuals, business-related texts, and publications like Scientific American, to an even greater enjoyment of world and American history, philosophy, religion, politics, etc.

Some of the greatest lessons I have learned from this broadening view of the human experience include:

1.   If I had to choose among all the times of man to walk the earth myself, this amazing era would be the time – from the standpoint of relative peacefulness, relative happiness, relative freedom, etc – “the old days” were horrible for then great mass of humanity;

2.  In spite of all the advancements in medicine, pure science, biology, electronics, etc., we are really no smarter than men and women of old, and there are few “new” humanistic or philosophical thoughts that have not been thought of long ago;

3.  Although somewhat controlled in most parts of the earth today, mankind across all classes still has great capacity for incredible cruelty, stunning oppression, and utter disrespect for human life;

4.  The Christian religion, with all its faults and horrifying missteps and cruelties over two millennia, has also been a tremendous force for good (and perhaps the greatest force for good) in the history of the world.

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3 Responses to “On Being a Successful Human”

  1. gpicone November 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    I was enjoying this blog post very much until I got to #4. You really have to explain that one in more detail. It seems to me that you might have added that one just because you are a Christian.

    • illero November 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

      Thanks for visiting – and responding. Your point about my item #4 is well taken, and I do want to satisfy your curiosity about my motivation. Unfortunately, I will have to do so when I have more time. I hope you’ll revisit to see why these four rise to the top of my stack.

    • illero November 25, 2012 at 7:11 am #

      I have struggled a little with a response to gpicone re: why I chose to insert the impact of Christianity as one of my four listed key “revelations” as I have converted from a numbers guy to more of a student of history, light philosophy, and religion.

      The challenge is to avoid getting too lengthy. So here’s my “short” view of why the Christian movement is so critical an “event” in the history of the world, and of mankind’s thinking. I realize there are people who would blame the very collapse of the Roman Empire on Christianity, but so far my studies don’t take me in that direction.

      The influence of Christianity has been felt in at least the following areas, across the breadth and depth of the western world, and in many areas of the East. Here are some of the reasons.

      1. Infanticide – Christianity was highly influential in the ending of the “father’s choice” form of controlling which newborns lived or died in the Roman culture
      2. Slaves – Christianity led in achieving for slaves recognition as real people with at least basic rights to life in the Roman empire
      3. Individual importance vs the “greater good” – Christianity led the way in recognizing individual worth
      4. Civilizing of the barbarians – In a time of unimagined cruelty and raw barbarism in the western world and near east in the first millennium A.D., Christianity was a powerful force for converting and civilizing the hordes from northern Europe and the steppes — a really bad time would have been much worse with this tempering effect of Christianity
      5. Conduit to the poor – Christianity has extended hope and life services to the poor from its inception until now
      6. Social structure – Although Christianity could not preserve “high civilization” through the Middle Ages, it did provide much-needed structure all the way down through the very poor
      7. Christianity was instrumental in preservation of the history and philosophy of antiquity during the Middle Ages
      8. Throughout the Christian era, this religion has provided a bulwark against the rise of more stifling, intolerant, and cruel philosophies and religions

      Again, I am not glossing over the egregious acts performed in the name of Christianity by many in leadership positions in the Christian movement. Just as we find that every good man or woman had/has serious flaws, so we should expect a movement like Christianity to have shown some glaring shortcomings.

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