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Homo universalis

July 16, 2011


That’s Latin for “universal man” or “man of the world,” if Wikipedia can be relied on for a proper translation.

I glide through a small, comfortable life — trying not to bother anyone, trying to be pleasant and polite, non-judgmental and sympathetic, charming and humble, trying to be intellectually honest and self-aware of my limits and flaws, every day edging closer to fulfilling all my ambitions.

One of my guiding principles is that we’re all capable of self-improvement at any age, particularly intellectual self-improvement. Sometimes that faith is the only thing that enables me to sleep through the night and get out of bed in the morning. I’ve always been blessed with a hunger for knowledge, a curiosity that often flares into full-blown passion for new arenas of experience, a curiosity perhaps sparked by a bittersweet frustration that I don’t know as much about literature, science, mathematics, history and culture as I think I should.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always embraced wholeheartedly people like Theodore Roosevelt and Michelangelo, those who lived their lives desperately hungry for more of the world to absorb into their hearts and minds, constantly reaching out to make more of it their own.

A friend once called me a polymath. Other friends have called me a Renaissance man. I politely laughed off both compliments. I’m certainly no genius. I’d hardly consider myself intelligent, compared to the accomplishments and capabilities of the other men and women in my life.

As I understand it, polymaths and Renaissance men and women possess an immensity of talent to complement that fiery passion to achieve great things in multiple fields, professions, etc. As my quiet life sadly illustrates — in which I’ve been not much more than a minor writer, historian, editor, painter and arts critic — I have very much of the latter and very little of the former.

Perhaps later life will prove otherwise, as I’m slowly exploring how to become a proper pianist, an amateur boxer, an effective apiarist and gardener, an expert numismatist and philatelist, a stellar professor of American Civil War and Roman and Spanish imperial history, a sympathetic and effective psychologist, an historical novelist, a decent speaker, writer and translator of Turkish, Spanish and Latin, and a less-than-atrocious golfer, photographer, and salsa dancer. My mandate is to be more than a simple-minded, well-meaning hobbyist.

But if none of that works out, perhaps this particular man of the world will be content being someone who’s fun to spend time with, whose passion for history is inspiring, whose writing makes the heart soar, who’s always interesting, always relaxing, always enriching. Always happy.

I’d settle for that last one, above and beyond all the rest.

  1. Your aspirations alone exhaust me. I can’t imagine myself pursuing any of those avenues with any effective passion. My one passionate ambition is to shed every vestige of religious conformity while pursuing godliness, to the end of becoming Christlike in every way possible. Short of that, I sate my curiosity on the Internet, and record my reactions on my blog. Most of said reactions comprise spiritual and/or Scriptural applications to rubber-meets-the-road issues.

  2. Ambitious and curious… this is a good combination.

    A year and a half later… has this changed? As a new year pops it’s head out from the earth, has it changed? I have wanted to be the jack of all trades type for most of my life, guided by the idea of being well-rounded as a virtue. But lately I’ve been wondering if that’s really what I want to pursue or not.

    I look forward to reading more from you!


  3. Hmmm… as I look back on my life, somewhere in the middle now… things change daily, I realize my great aspirations didn’t quite happen, and I am quite content they did not. I would have been a doctor, and I also would have been a multi-millionaire. I am rich now though, with treasure of a different kind. Laid up in heaven, and prayerfully adding more daily. Memories that can’t be stolen or appropriated by another, good memories I am so thankful for. Good children… Good, sturdy minds, quick wit, sense of humor… strong. kind hearts that love the Lord. I am blessed beyond measure even in and through the darkest storms of life, there He is with me.

  4. Great philosophy for a contented life.

  5. I am so happy you are shooting for the last one. I am finishing a week with a few members of my family ( very cerebral people), and , well, I learn much, of a large and varied number of things, but I don’t feel like I get to know them better.
    It’s like sitting down with two encyclopedias. I want to learn more about their humanness because that’s what we have in common.
    It does sounds like your curiosity will help you maintain a status as a well rounded individual, never one dimensional!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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