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March 22, 1992

Recovering Wholeness

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As I read through my seven collective qualities and reflected on what it means to be an complete leader, I couldn’t shake the notion that these truths are for the everyman, the everywoman. To the individual I am saying, “We should recover a real spirit and value of the Renaissance person.” I’m not suggesting we kill ourselves trying to be the next Leonardo da Vinci. But we can take steps toward developing the whole person.
The Renaissance ideal feels artful to me. It was a time when people understood an individual to possess innate intellectual and physical tools. In order to form those tools to the utmost, a broad knowledge base was demanded and sought. The musician or writer didn’t simply socialize with folks of his own ilk. He or she was able to converse on broad topics while living confidently in the security of their specific skill set. But in today’s culture there are accountants and there are literary types. Affinity groups are everything. Right?
Our modern move toward specialization creates silo-living and silo-leading. As individuals, say homeowners, for example, we no longer need to know much about anything to maintain our homes. If the furnace clunks out, we call a heating and cooling specialist. If the dishwasher begins leaking all over the new hardwoods, we call a plumber. Hail damage? Call a roofer. You get the idea.
Sometimes this specialization can cause rifts. In the knowledge world of MBAs, Ph.D.s, MDs, and JDs, there can sometimes exist a disdain for those in the physical labor world—as if it requires no knowledge to repair a BMW engine. Thinkers aren’t laborers and laborers shouldn’t think. Our love of specialization, therefore, can lead to a fragmented culture. In his New York Times bestseller, author Matthew Crawford suggests that we (as a culture) would rather have a world devoid of psychological friction than interact with the world of machines. In other words, we like our autonomous existence and are content to let the mechanical dudes fix our stuff.
But we were not created to be autonomous. We were created to integrate ourselves into the lives of others. We are hardwired to fix things, to learn things, to challenge, to be involved in more than just one thing. Human wholeness doesn’t mean that we bag our core competencies and attempt to be the perfect humanist. It means that we operate out from our core but we’re always looking for ways to learn and to connect with other humans.

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