In Defense of the Renaissance Being

Recently I watched a TED talk by a brilliant thinking woman named Emilie Wapnick. (see link to TED Talk below) In this talk she spoke of why some of us don’t have one true calling (the name of her talk by the way). It really got me thinking because so much of what she said rang true to me.

She named what had been in my mind a lifelong protest of having to find what I would be when I grew up. Limited to one thing. Luckily I have been interested in myriad things in my life and finally many of them came together in the design science of environment called Permaculture. But not limited to that because I continue to expand, learn, research and try new things. The latest is mycology (study of fungi and mushrooms) among others.

But it has been a life long struggle to come up with what I wanted to “do” with my life, more than what I wanted to “be”. I couldn’t imagine being stuck doing one thing an entire lifetime. I felt this since I was a little kid. It left me feeling in mystery about what that thing should be and I never really found ‘it’ because the real answer was ‘all of the above’. ‘One thing’ was the big lie. For me it didn’t exist, so the question was the wrong one – “What do I want to be when I grow up?”. The question should have been ‘What are all the things you would like to do and be as you grow up’. It isn’t a list with one answer, it’s a journey.

At heart we are all one thing and one thing only – ourselves! No two of us are so alike we could live in each other’s skins and have no dissention. That is the glory of being alive and living with others – our un-alikeness, our uniqueness. There is magnificence in the differences, talents, abilities, skills, outlooks and viewpoints, intentions and agendas we have within ourselves.

I keep hearing people say about themselves and others that they are ADHD or some other psych influenced word to describe that they are particular, that they pay attention to detail, that they are driven to do certain things and do them well. Included in this are every normal trait of a Renaissance person. And I object!

Let’s not allow those who wish to make victims of us all or to sell us drugs or control our thinking to define our breadth and depth of life experience or our purposes or what drives us. It isn’t a disease, it’s the human condition. And we are lucky to be so versatile, so nimble, so creative that we can move around in our creations and interests, be exacting of ourselves, set high standards, and to find genius in our lives.

Miss Emilie calls us “Multi Potentialites” who are not cogs in some wheel invented during the Industrial Revolution to turn all of us into pieces of equipment for those who would profit from machines and people made into machines. Emilie talks about the question we all get when we are children “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.

If we grow up and haven’t found the ‘one thing’, somehow society looks at people as if they are lost or something is wrong with them. And then we start to think of ourselves that way, and invalidate who we really are. That gives about half the population a good feeling and the other half or so the feeling that somehow we have missed the boat or are built wrong spiritually or mentally. This is a big lie and we can drop that one right now.

It begs the question, how did we let this kind of limiting mind set into our lives. Why haven’t we been questioning this mindset before? Thank you Emilie! We have gotten led to it by the paycheck, by the carrot of the easy life, the middle class “go to work, do the one thing, go home to the dream of ideal family life, get that vacation once a year, send the kids to college” that seems to be acceptable and respectable. We haven’t wanted to buck the system which appears to give us the good life. It works for some. It never worked for me. That doesn’t mean we can’t have all the good things by being nimble, it just means we don’t get there by the same road.

She expresses the idea that some people are driven to be one thing, or are so focused on that one thing that they can spend an entire lifetime doing that. We need people that are ‘wired’ like that. They give stability and a host of other beneficial attributes to society. But she gets bored once she accomplishes a sufficient competence and moves on. That gives her multiple disciplines to draw from in her next interest and journey to competence in that. It’s a growing lexicon of knowledges and skills from such a life. I enjoy that and most of my friends are of like mind in that we are rich with imagination, curiosity, and the ability to absorb and apply information at a high rate, not scared of starting fresh in a new subject or pursuit.

Another friend pointed out that specialization came in with the Industrial Revolution and I started to realize how much of a paradigm that has instilled into our current civilization. If someone wanted to benefit from your energies to accomplish their agenda, keeping you focused on something they could benefit from would be of prime concern.

The control factor to keep you thus focused would be necessary to keep a work force thus occupied. Standing at a work station in a factory punching out a part or assembling some contraption may bring in a pay check every week or two, but it is mind numbing. For the renaissance mind, having some cubicle in a corporate office, or being stuck doing the same thing an entire lifetime is likewise numbing and stultifying.

If from the first day at school we are herded into finding our ‘level’ for this kind of slavery, which actually is the basis for “Outcome” education, people don’t think that they have a choice to explore their potential. The world is a lesser place for this kind of thinking. Where would the inventors, the innovators, the ‘think outside the box’ people be if they are shoved into that box and the key thrown away mentally by the education they get from an early age.

That’s one of the things I am so happy about in our current society – home schooling, and other non-traditional educational modes. It gives the multi-potentialite an out.

In an era and in a culture where people need to survive, as things go through drastic changes, which describes things as they are now, one must be versatile, nimble, smart and able to turn on a dime without the world coming down around their ears.

People who are one trick ponies get lost in the dust. Look what happened to the middle level execs in Detroit when the auto industry crumbled, just to name one example. People limited to the ‘one thing’ get lost in the shuffle when technology shifts or when their skills become obsolete.

So, a certain amount of suppression can occur of the nimble, the thinkers outside the box, occurs because the “one thing” society can feel threatened. It’s a clash of temperaments and a paradigm which has been successful for about a hundred years coming to terms with a changing world. It can come from above where those who have held control by keeping things orderly in this way are faced with changing conditions they can’t control.

But that is an unnecessary worry. The focused and the nimble have always found each other helpful. Working together as a team provides necessary components to success. We have resources and those resources in terms of motivation are both precious and when explored so much more can be accomplished.

In terms of emerging non-traditional societies such is found in Permaculture villages, and new ways of organizing peoples, having multiple skills and abilities is a huge bonus. When someone can blacksmith a tool, play a musical instrument, make a medicinal herbal concoction, program a computer, and write a technical manual, that person is an asset not only to himself for varied interests, but to the harmony and overall survival of the company he keeps.

It isn’t mental illness to whole heartedly jump into a new pursuit, learning at a high rate, produce all kinds of new things, get to a point where it’s ‘old stuff’, and start looking around for the next great passion. It makes for a very happy life.

If we looked at this from another perspective, one of environmental components, we could say that instead of being multi-potential, we could say ‘bio diverse’. In an environment that is changing, having bio-diversity is a key component because it means that when one solution no longer works, there’s another one waiting in the wings – a plant that handles colder or hotter weather, more moisture or less, the trampling of animals or the lack of bees. With people, we need bio-diverse kinds of people. In agriculture the lack of bio-diversity is called ‘mono-cropping’ meaning thousands of acres of one crop only. If we have a planet with only the focused, only the conformers, only the followers, that is a kind of mono-cropping and in the long term it is disastrous.

And if people who do make progress leave a trail of written knowledge which someone else coming down that path can benefit from, then we grow as a culture.

Maybe we Multi-potentialites are hard to control, don’t fit into other people’s boxes, and maybe pose a threat for our innovations and new thinking, but that is what human kind has been doing for a long time. We all have benefited from the renaissance people throughout history. We wouldn’t have good plumbing, refrigeration, the internet, swift transportation, fast communication across the globe, full stomachs, or abundance without them.

Looking back a couple of hundred years, being a 1700’s re-enactor and history buff, life was much more precarious. To thrive in that world a single person survived to the degree that every need could be met by his/her own skills and understandings.

We had to be able to make shelters, find and transport water, grow or find food and cook it, have fire and a source of light and energy, arrange transportation, create shoes and clothing, and the fabric or the material to make them, be able to recognize threats in the environment and protect ourselves against them, heal ourselves of wounds and injuries, illnesses and disease, care for children and the older among us, bear those children and provide for them, be in control of our food supply not only in cultivating the soil but preserving it and having seeds for the next season or hunting.

We had to be able to handle weapons, protect ourselves from dangerous animals and humans, defend our holdings, and compose towns and the societies around us. No ‘one trick pony’ type of person survived well in the wilderness. Perhaps they did well in the cities where people specialized more, but not as pioneers.

The accumulation of the products and knowledge from the innovators have brought us up from that precarious state. It has taken the combined strengths of both the focused and the multi-potentialites.

We make a mistake if we think that there is no more to right, that there will never be another precarious condition because we are at a cross roads right now with food safety and security, water scarcity, Fukushima born radiation, population concerns, and a cascade of other planetary problems which loom on the horizon or already impact us daily. So, even more, we need the problem solvers, the new thinkers, the ones who can step back out of the ordinary viewpoints and come up with a better way.

We are always blazing new trails in this world, cities and the modern technological society we live in notwithstanding. First our society lives in how we think about proceeding. It starts out as concepts. If we control our own concepts of things and are free to build upon those which benefit the greatest number and for the greatest good, we can have a future worth building.

Left up to those only in the boxes or those who control the boxes, keeping things under control and not allowing the little guy with the big idea to proceed, we all loose. The balance between the focused and the broader thinking people is what needs to be achieved for then the power of both kinds of people go towards that greater good.

It isn’t a battle between the multi-potentialite and the focused. It’s a meshing of the resources and skills, powers and knowledges, and their free expression as well as the right to move from one skill to the next and use them as we see fit, that brings about the balance. Cooperation and harmony as well as the right to go off on one’s own and pursue one’s passions without needing the approval of anyone has to be part of this process.

Never in the history of mankind has this cooperation and harmony been more needed. If we continue with the path we are on, we will see famine, radiation problems, civil unrest, suffering and unimaginable chaos. But if we get busy and start using the new ideas, apply new wisdom such as Permaculture (which is based on nature, not really new, just new application), the internet for research, and our good thinkers, we can bring order before we see those negative outcomes. We need our multi-potentialites to just bring outselves to a new plateau of civilization and freedom.

That means no more labeling of the renaissance being as an aberration or unwanted state. No more corralling the kids into that kind of thinking, drugging them if they are restless and don’t do well in government educational institutions, or labeling them. Just give them the basis of education so they can follow their own ‘wiring’ whether they fit into government schools, need home schooling, or charter schools, etc. and let them grow into competent adults who can contribute to life as they see it. Then we all win.

It’s a matter of potential. How are we going to use this potential – the free thinker, the researcher, the innovator, the entrepreneur, the inventor, the artists of societies and environments, the writers and other multi-potentialites? If you are one of us, then you have the right to pursue your passions as long as those passions lead to positive things. We can do without the bomb makers and the chaos merchants.

Ethics always has to be part of this process. Permaculture Design says “Care for the Earth, Care for People, Equitable and fair distribution of the abundance thus caused”. Without ethics we have seen the ravaging of the earth, the despoiling of pristine places for profit, the killing of millions of people in the name of political or religious ends, the wasting of the resources of this little planet for the power of a few and the aggressions towards the earth and its people which hasten the end of our earth as a home.

Renaissance people, the Multi-potentialite, the multi-talented person has to be recognized and supported within our culture. Be proud if you are one. Support any around you whether you are one yourself, or you are a proud focused individual.Work together in harmony. We can make a better world together.

Thank you Emilie Wapnick for your brilliant TED Talk.

Diann Dirks Oct 13, 2015

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One Response to In Defense of the Renaissance Being

  1. Linda Ferguson says:

    Very nice and inspirational Diann.

    You rock! Linda

    Linda Ferguson

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