Outside the Box


A few years ago, my mother tried to teach me and my younger sister the art of solving the infamous Rubik’s cube. At first, I was pretty excited, and I put a lot of effort into memorizing numerous algorithms. My spirits dampened as I struggled to solve the cube, but I was still motivated to learn. This motivation came to a halt as one of my cousins made an off-the-cuff remark about how I’m not a “visual learner,” and how that “handicap” affected my ability to truly grasp the concept of the Rubik’s cube. He said I should “stick to mathematics, and other pencil-to-paper stuff,” believing that I couldn’t do it.

Fellow Andover students who have had similar experiences, I dedicate this article to you, for pure grit and the will to succeed can always overcome an uncultured seed of talent. A wise individual once said that it is our actions that show who we truly are, rather than our abilities. Therefore, I encourage you to always challenge the preconceived norms held by those who surround you.

Throughout my life, I have observed that humanity displays an innate and inexplicable gravitation toward labels and standardization. In our early years, biological categorization was developed as a means of survival. According to “Let’s Bring Back the Polymaths” by Samuel Arbesman, as humans strived to gain a better understanding of our world we “divid[ed] information into manageable portions and distinct areas of proficiency.” This intuitive nature of division according to characteristics has persevered throughout the ages and has culminated with a widely-accepted method of living, even in the contemporary world. This is displayed in our system of education, which often advocates for intricate specializations.

Although the human tendency to specialize is not intrinsically wrong, the problem arises when individuals belittle the polymath due to the fact that they have challenged the societal norm of accepting a “calling.” Karl Marx states in “The Communist Manifesto,” “For as soon as the distribution of labor comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape.” Now, you do not have to agree with Marxist ideologies to tolerate the point he is putting across: the corpulence of capitalism has strengthened the need for a hierarchical-based and “monomathic” society, where the individual completes a particular task that will ultimately benefit the economy. It is as if the average human has restricted themselves to a cubicle.

The truth is, we can all become polymaths. When debating on whether you should try or learn something new, ask yourself the following questions: Why not? Why should I hinder myself on the presumption that I should not even make an attempt? Because I don’t have the talent? Nonsense!

As Jeff Goins, a writer for “Business Insider,” suggests, it is important to recognize that we should not be afraid to change mediums. For example, many people do not know that Picasso also dabbled in the art of realism, and not just cubism. Even if you are obstinately certain that you would like to pursue one passion for the rest of your life, do not over-specialize in it. All subjects have divergent groups. Therefore, instead of focusing your conflagration of motivation into an intense and narrow beam, allow it to shine on many surfaces, and watch as those reflections enhance and evolve as you gain more and more knowledge.

Additionally, we must take caution and steer away from getting stuck on a single pursuit. In Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk “Why Some of Us Don’t Have a True Calling,” she illustrates her own path to realizing who she truly is, and how her scope of passions allows her to foster innovative solutions to multidimensional problems. If you have been talented in math ever since you were a toddler, and you feel like it’s your “calling” and the subject in which you would like to major, get a masters, and do a doctorate, then do that. Who am I to dictate your life choices? But also consider that visual arts course, or that astronomy course you might have been interested in as well. How will you ever know whether or not you will grow a passion for a subject if you have never even given it a chance?

Kyle Wiens states in his piece “In Defense of the Polymaths,” that in this age of global technology and a wide access to learning materials, “polymath status is accessible to just about anyone with a modem, a library card, and the desire to learn.” You just have to have the spark. Take a risk, close your eyes, and dive in!