I had an interesting discussion on a bus the other day. It was interesting, but it also irritated me. Talking about music, I commented that I had studied classical singing and loved Classical and Romantic music but also had a rather eclectic music taste. This was greeted with astonishment. A classical singer who listened to things other than classical music? Inconceivable! Similar sentiments are expressed in other contexts. A law student with an interest in science or economics or architecture? A modern history student with an interest in classical literature? A self-confessed nerd who likes sport? How odd! But it isn’t.
At a university, at an educational institution surrounded by some of the best academics in their fields, students should surely be encouraged to take an interest in as many topics as possible and explore as widely as possible. I know that some want to get their degrees and get out quickly, but surely a love of learning beyond your degree isn’t so unusual? Surely it isn’t weird for someone to have a diverse range of interests? Heck, half of us are doing double degrees!
The most interesting people I know are the ones who can hold at least a semi-informed conversation on a broad range of topics. They’re the ones you’ll spend two or three hours with discussing everything from music, art history, politics or literature to the latest research on free market organ donation, the technicalities of a drag flick or the comparative merits of the American and Australian legal systems. Of course, the Renaissance ideal of the polymath is well and truly dead – you could spend a lifetime studying and still not master one field, let alone multiples – but that doesn’t mean we can’t aim for breadth of knowledge.
Next time you meet someone, next time you have a chat with a friend you sort of know, don’t assume that they’ll only know about the obvious thing. Don’t assume that the law student just wants to talk about law. Find out about that physicist who happens to be a fantastic percussionist and rock drummer. Talk to the jock who bakes or the one who takes photographs with a breathtaking, lyrical beauty. Get beyond the giggles and the gossip with your best friends and have a good argument about models of third world development or the merits of transitioning to a zero-growth economy.
In my, admittedly limited, experience, people will almost always surprise you with what they know. Almost everyone will have some weird little quirk or secret interest. There will always be something you’re passionate about and when you start on that topic, we’ll see that fire in your eyes.
So challenge yourself and never stop learning from the passions of those around you. And challenge me – I’ll try and write about something completely different in every column…
Odds & Ends is a fortnightly salon of ideas and musings on life in all its messy beauty.