Three Good Reasons

3 booksLife In The Polis: Needed Now More Important Than Ever

Last week we launched our first Polis courses and the response has been incredible.  Students are signing up for classes at a steady clip and we are all getting so excited for the first sessions to begin in just three weeks. There are still a few seats available in both classes- sign up today and spread the word  about Polis to friends and family in the Bay Area.

One of the major challenges that we face at Polis: How to convince adults who are busy and stretched thin that they need to take time out for a discussion class in the liberal arts?

In the midst of work deadlines, family obligations, errands, and of course our favorite TV series (with Breaking Bad ending and Homeland starting this Sunday- I am fully aware of the power that a good show can have on our time!):  Why should the busy adult consider a course in the liberal arts?

1) The Liberal Arts Can Make Us More Creative Thinkers:

Diving into a great book in the company of interesting people can have an impact on our lives well beyond the classroom. We become more expansive and creative thinkers in all of the other parts of our lives (by the way, Steve Jobs felt strongly about this fact). We build the mental muscle of creativity through the liberal arts. But, we don’t necessarily need to rely only a traditional university to be the gym for our minds.

Joseph R. Urgo, President of St Mary’s College of Maryland : We live in a data-driven era, where increasingly we do not want to make a move without a clear plan — a plan in advance that outlines goals, execution and results. True, almost all we do on a mundane, daily basis is done better by such systematic approaches. On the other hand, nothing stifles creativity and originality more effectively than such rational demands. The urge to control abstract, cognitive pursuits represents a cynicism about our existence, a loss of hope, an abandoning of the human spirit. The only antidote to despair is creation and intellectual revival, and this is the business of an unfettered liberal education.  Baltimore Sun, March 03, 2013

2)  Face to Face Conversation= True Connection

Many of us have hundreds of online connections (the average American has over 600 social connections!) but at the same time we feel that there is something missing. We sense that as we acquire more connections we are losing the quality of being known well. Sherry Turkle, MIT researcher and author of Alone Together, reminds us:

FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”

3) Reading Literature (and Discussing It With Others ) Can Make Us More Empathetic and Patient:

Research on the long lasting impact of reading literature shows:

“Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their “theory of mind,” or mental model of other people’s intentions.”

Of course these are not the only reasons we need the liberal arts integrated into our daily lives. More to come in future posts!

What are the reasons that YOU think continued engagement with the liberal arts can lead to a life well lived?

We want to hear from you! What would you tell a friend who asks, “What can reading  books and talking about ‘big ideas’ do for me?”

Categories: Community Building, Polis courses


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