Monday, October 14, 2013

In Defense of Cross-Disciplinary Endeavors

It is easy to be critical of individuals… in every facet of life. When you are cut off on the highway, it is always the other person’s fault—never were you going too fast or passing in the slow lane. When someone fails to respond to your message, you comfort yourself with knowing that you are always faithful to respond quickly—never mind the times you have forgotten or worse deliberately delayed a response. We are particularly critical in contexts that we are trained in. The public speaker can sit and pull-apart every misplaced emphasis and gesture. The English graduate can stand in conversation and correct every grammatical error. The theology and philosophy student can visit every YouTube video and start arguments on the word “the.” To some extent, these are valid: emphases and gestures can attract to or detract from the message; grammar does enable intelligent conversation; discussing the matters of life is necessary. And we ought to pursue excellence in everything we do. Yet, the above happenings are annoying when others do it (because God knows we never do). The pride and arrogance that I exhibit when I do such things aren't the only problems, however—I am denouncing the wisdom and glory of God in creating man in his image. Too much of a jump? Then engage me as I explain.

Every person lives a multi-dimensional, cross-disciplinary life. All individuals we interact with exist. As long as they exist, they must perpetually engage in varying facets of life, or else cease to exist over time. They must choose food to eat, but not many are dietitians, chefs, connoisseurs, or grandmas in their kitchen. While some are experts in the field of eating, everybody must eat. They must plan and execute decisions, but not all are strategists. They must communicate, but not all are linguists, sociologists, speech therapists, counselors, orators, rhetoricians, or lawyers. What of travel and movement by those who are not racecar drivers, physical trainers, or emissions testers? Is it silly to point to such particular and minute professionals in light of common circumstances? A bit, indeed—and yet that is the point exactly: God has created man in his image and given him a life to live, a world to inhabit—not all can expect to be experts in every area, neither in this life or the new creation. As we are critical of individuals who do not match up to our expertise in a given context, we often make a mockery of their ability to live well at all. We do not always go so far, but our hubris is more prone to it than we like to admit.

The ‘uninformed’ person is informed in another area. Besides the reality that we engage multiple disciplines every day, surely we are informed or ‘expert’ in at least one area. This is not to deny that some are ‘more expert,’ but simply to say the person you criticized yesterday isn't completely incompetent. Totally depraved? Likely. Totally stupid? Unlikely. In fact, oftentimes, the one who is clinically disadvantaged of intelligence is well-versed in love and expert in trust. Surely, there is at least one discipline you are ignorant of. And that discipline brings another their paycheck.
Beyond this, have you considered that since you are trained in your field, you speak the language of your field, follow the thoughts of your field, and are sometimes handicapped by those very things that make you expert? Voices from other perspectives will shed light on the object you've been studying from a single angle. God made you finite and you cannot hold all things in your mind at once—even if you have held particulars in your mind once before. They may not know what you know, but they do know something you don’t.

The amateur speaks to amateurs. How many of your family members would read the journals in your discipline or attend your conferences… and enjoy them? Even if they understood all the jargon, they may not care to pay attention for an hour plenary session or fifteen-page posit. Not to mention the breakout sessions and book review! But the one who is amateur speaks to amateurs. She can couch the thoughts in analogy and simplicity—she can bring your lofty thoughts to the masses. Things will be lost in translation, but would you not rather have the public know in part what you know in whole? If not, then do not pretend you care for knowledge of truth; what you care for is the power of having what others do not.

Commendation. All persons must inhabit a world of details even if they cannot name what all the details are. Some are more responsible than others because their expertise requires expertise in many fields, or because God has deemed it wise to give them more intelligence and opportunities than others. So indwell the world, and pursue God through the details. You will never reach the end in this life or the new creation, but that ought to bring excitement rather than discouragement. As you continue on, grow in humility in proportion to your knowledge, or more if possible! Dialogue about politics, faith, philosophy, aesthetics, culture, food. Learn.

Related: Be Fair, Be Informed, Be Wrong

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