While visiting Philadelphia over the weekend, my mom and I got to talking about our founding fathers. None of them were just one thing – a lawyer, a politician, a banker. Instead a single man could have knowledge that spanned the length and breadth of every sort of education. Benjamin Franklin was an inventor, politician, philosopher, diplomat, printer … the list goes on and on.
But as the saying goes, that was then. This is now. We aren’t raised to be renaissance thinkers anymore, we’re raised to choose careers. My education was about getting to college. It was about preparing for the future, choosing a major, getting a job. My classes were varied, yes, but I could have learned more.
I’ve written before about how I miss learning. I miss sitting around with classmates and discussing literature, picking apart Victorian homosociality and the femininity of the east and masculinity of the west. But we do not live in a culture where these things are naturally discussed outside of a classroom. I’m lucky to have the friends that I do, because from time to time we find ourselves discussing philosophy and Shakespeare at bars, and it’s wonderful. But at the same time it also feels like it’s just enough to leave me wanting more.
I think part of it is because we have, as a whole, lost our curiosity. All of our burning questions have been answered, and the ones that don’t offer an easy response are the ones we just choose to ignore. There are countless ways to distract yourself if you’re getting bored, and deep conversation isn’t quite as a high on the list as it used to be. After all, The Bachelorette is on. After all, there are funny videos of animals doing people things on Youtube. And mindless entertainment can be awesome, but it also shouldn’t be the only thing we do. We should learn. We should keep learning and keep finding things to be curious about.
It’s one thing to say that, of course, and another thing entirely to do it. Because we’ve got jobs. Because I’m a writer but I’ve got digital banner ads to write and websites to proof, and when I get home at night writing can feel like the last thing in the world I want to do. I’m not Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, a starving artist recording the thoughts of my generation. My generation records their own thoughts – constantly and unavoidably. So how can we make the time to do something different? How can we be great, not in the sense of one thing, but in the sense of living and thinking and being?
That’s what we’ve got to figure out. That’s the mountain of our generation.