Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Renaissance Man

A lady named Joan wrote me and asked me to make some comments on what I thought about being a Renaissance human and connections to other people, life, writing, etc. She wanted this for a University of Nebraska at Omaha alumni letter. I sure hope she is a great editor, because I just emailed her some gibberish. I have been spending the past few days filling out excel spread sheets documenting each item we lost. I'm up to item 2011. That is a lot of stuff. But after writing all this excel spread sheet itemizing baloney, to think profound coherent thoughts about abstract ideas is awfully difficult. In the end, I sent Joan the following:

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the beermaid Siduri wisely advises the traveling king:

"As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full. Dance and be merry by day and night, by night and day make a feast of rejoicing, day and night dance and play. Let your garments be white, your head washed, bathe in water. Cherish the little child that holds your hand. Let your spouse delight in your embrace. For this too is the lot of humankind."

That is great advice, and something I need to be reminded of frequently. Nevertheless, we in higher education still have incredible goals. We have a unique and sacred responsibility to exercise minds to ultimately make the world a better place. We need to know what is going on in the world, and care about what happens to others. I find that travel, more than anything else, helps me to connect to humans (past and present) and makes me whole. I've found reassurance in that people all over the world share my concerns and goals. Additionally, the study of ancient history and my experience in field archaeology have helped me to connect to my ancestors. Education enhances and fine tunes an intrinsic curiosity to explore, and education provides the tools to effectively communicate. Writing is cathartic and can change the world. I don't think life is about being happy. I tell my students on the first day of class that a university education is not designed to make them happier. I also reinforce that the biblical authors were not writing for them. Rather, they were trying to record and make changes in their own lives. That is something that we should use as a model.

At UNO I was able to pursue a desire to become a polymath. I could take courses in astronomy, Greek language, French history, Child Psychology and Renaissance art, all in one semester. Then, I was no longer a kid from Omaha in the late 20th century. Instead, I was a human being, doing my best to connect to other people, appreciating their accomplishments while trying to understand its meaning for the future. Through studying the past, and writing about it for modern students, I am able to fight off a cultural amnesia.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How to be happy:

2:30 PM  

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