“You’re a renaissance man!”
A high school teacher said after he heard I was simultaneously acting in the school play, running on the Track team serving on the student council.
The term renaissance man sounded positive but I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. Definition: a person with many talents or areas of knowledge.
It was an ideal developed in the 15th century by Leon Battista Alberti who summed it up with “a man can do all things if he will.” Alberti should know, he was an architect, painter, poet, scientist, mathematician and horseman. (I presume this means a good horserider?)
By the way, women can be a renaissance man…see “person” in definition.
Anyway, I certainly didn’t measure up to Alberti but my crossover into varied activities was rare. Was I a jock or a drama nerd? A student government egghead? Others were-class clowns, band geeks, braniacs, druggies(stoners)?
I was proud to cause pause when it came to characterizing me. I witnessed how flimsy and inaccurate labels can be…when none of them totally represented me. I was nothing special. I happened to like playing football, acting, debating issues, music, etc. Truth is, I enjoyed performing whether it was on stage or on the football field. It tripped the same triggers, in both, you planned, practiced then performed. And yes, I enjoyed applause, call me a narcissist.
The emphasis on focus, determination and teamwork was essential to it all. And I gained friends from different walks of life who often misunderstood one another.
I imagine, like Meghan and I, all parents wish for their kids to be well-rounded, unlimited, open to defining and re-defining who they are as they go through life.
It’s a great big world, shouldn’t we push the edges and explore it? Isn’t it wasteful and depressing to not?
Labels aren’t evil but they can be. They can constrain, they can nullify, they can extinguish the human spirit.
This is why I’m so concerned the idea of the renaissance man is in danger in the midst of our emerging specialization society. It’s all-too-apparent in the raising of our youth the last decade or so.
With the prevalence of youth sports and club teams and private coaches, kids are being forced into choosing a particular sport or activity at younger and younger ages. Sports don’t change with the seasons like they did when I was a kid. Now, it’s one sport–all year round! Kids are not only discouraged but often flat out told they can’t participate in any other sport.
Kids are often spread too thin. More and more studies are showing that over-participation and hyper-specialization results in more and more serious overuse injuries in young athletes. On top of that, mentally and emotionally, kids are burning out by the time high school sports roll around.
The idea of the renaissance man is under attack. (Heck, even the 1994 film, Renaissance Man only has a 17% rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes!)
Broad-based training and knowledge isn’t fostered much. What ever happened to cross training? (Not to be confused with Crossfit.)
I took an informal poll this past spring of a group of my former Badgers teammates, many of whom were lamenting the specialization and the amount of time spent transporting their kids to sports practices and games. Of the 8 or so former Division 1 football players–a couple had played in the NFL, ALL of us played multiple sports all the way through high school.
So, when I hear parents say they HAVE to get their kids started early and specialized in one sport if they’re going to get a college scholarship or even play on their high school teams, I highly doubt that.
Why are parents, coaches, instructors, so heavily pre-determining the interests of our children? Their under a misguided notion that it’s what best prepares their kids for future success. While well-intentioned, some adults are losing the forest for the trees in wanting the best for their kids.
Parents should expose their kids to a wide variety of interests-explore sports and music and art and science, etc…and see what takes.
Cash has already taken art and music classes and will be playing any and every sport once he’s old enough.
We want to develop his skills and curiosity along the way. And meet different types of people. We want to prepare him for the world and help him find challenges, failures, success and enjoyment.
All the while learning more and more about who he is and ideally turns into a man who can “do all things he will.”
Isn’t that the success we wish for our kids?