We’re locked in a war that’s making us all hostages. We ‘re all scared. Politics has swallowed up everything else that matters, it seems, until there is no oxygen or energy left for anything else. Some may enjoy the constant combat, but most of us want things to calm down. It’s like the Talking Heads song: How on Earth Did We Get Here? We can blame the politicians, who richly deserve it, but nothing will ever change if we do that. Politics is about pointing and blaming, to some extent. Maybe, it’s time for us to look at us? If experience is our teacher, what are we learning? What are we teaching? How much of what we’re experiencing in our political system today is about what we choose to see and the meaning we choose to give it?
This may seem a radical statement, but I don’t think my Liberal Arts Degree was the cakewalk for stoners it was labelled to be. I’m more convinced of this every day. In many ways it’s exactly what we need today. It teaches what so many are looking for: that we’re not alone, that we’re not meant to be, and that we, in fact, never were. Liberal Arts means a generous, extensive course curriculum. —the big picture. The more information is fragmented and aligned with our preferences, the less useful that information becomes. It provides no navigation tools for turning off the fear, the rage, the confusion we are being fed by our televisions. But my liberal arts education taught me all I needed to know to combat all of this noise. Here’s how:
I learned that troublesome people are often my teachers, particularly those I wish I’d never met. When I was at the University of Texas and Vanderbilt University, the schools deliberately paired Engineering students with English majors as roommates. We thought it a sadistic exercise of power, but this simple practice was a deliberate part of our education. We mocked each other’s chosen careers and thought the people with whom we had been paired extra- terrestrials. I, as an English major, was in “Arts and Crafts” and “Finger-painting”, and my roommate’s future vocation of Engineer was labelled “Robot” and “Gearhead.” But when our own skills, mindsets, emotional intelligence, and aptitudes weren’t enough for an educational or life challenge, we borrowed those of our roommates and increased our arsenal for taking on the world. My engineer roommates taught me women could be tough and compete in male- dominated fields, and gave me organizational skills that made me more productive as a writer and artist and eventual lawyer.
I learned the real, comprehensive story of America and its place in the world through the study of world and American history. I learned how a multitude of disciplines and points of view made us an indomitable whole. I learned that America had help from other countries, particularly France, in becoming America.. I learned our American system of government, how the branches of government are designed to work, and when they don’t. History reaffirmed our American values and explained why they were our values in the first place. It gave profiles and examples of courage, heroism, service, and sacrifice. It chronicled our mistakes and recorded them for posterity, so future generations wouldn’t repeat them. Attempts to correct these mistakes are the beginnings of policy. In the study of history, we got to stand on the shoulders of millions who went before us and learn what their lives taught us, without having to suffer their tragedies. Our history is a gorgeous, unlikely miracle illustrating how the sum of our many parts made a whole of incalculable beauty.
Those “useless” English Literature and foreign language courses gave me the most precious thing possible: a way to disagree with my friends, and still keep them as friends. They did this by giving me a bridge of language I could use to reach and learn about people unlike me. Friends did not used to ask each other who they voted for before becoming friends in the first place. It made life so much easier. We had other things to talk about. We were focused on learning each other’s story and walking with them as it unfolded.
A broad- based education has served for generations to be an orientation on everything you want or need to know about America; our history and why it’s important, our heroes, and our children’s potential place in all of this. It gave me a common story with every other American and gave me the gift of being part of a giant family, all working together. It’s always the story that matters, that transforms and changes, not whatever technical information we may learn.
My education taught me to stay curious and dive in. That’s the magic bullet for fighting fear. I can say this from personal experience, as a naturally fearful person. For this reason alone, a broad education is worth its weight in gold.
Curiosity allows the mind to open just long enough for it to assimilate new information before fears sets in and stops us. It allowed me the space to ask the 3 questions that keep propelling me forward: What if? Why not? and Who says? I never would have gone to law school if I relied on polling to make my decision. No one thought I could do it, and that made me curious to see if I could. Even more importantly, how can I progress spiritually if I don’t wonder and question?
Fight or Flight does not provide insight.
The antidotes to the terror we all can feel when we look at our world and the safety of our children in it are love, curiosity, and engagement. The cure for our world and our politics is us—daring to live without fear and throwing ourselves into humanity and watching for what unfolds. No one mentors or transforms themselves.
It all comes down to the two roommates I described in paragraph 3 of this essay. Are they fellow travelers and friends, or enemy combatants? Is life a never-ending adventure and classroom for them or a sentence only to be endured? Is the world something benign and beautiful, or is it menacing and dangerous? Are there infinite possibilities for them? Do they stay in touch? I’ve got to believe that everyone we meet is our teacher, especially those we may wish we never met, that all things and people work together for our eventual good, that our purpose is to keep learning, and that life is most definitely not over after High School.
There is a way for all of us to come home.