Originally published at 4humanities, on 10/02/2014
In the beginning, we are all very small. But we grow—-perpetually, imperceptibly—-and as we grow, our world grows with us. Little by little it grows to include grandma, dirt, chocolate, playgrounds, friends, two-wheelers, books and movies, and on and on until we reach adulthood. Should it stop there?
If being a grown up means that we’re done growing-—if it means that our world is done growing-—then what is its ultimate value? If having answers means that we stop asking, who wants them? (Where is that child with all the questions?) The best kind of grown up is a person who is consistently, fervently, passionately growing-up. A “growing-up” has knowledge, yes, but she questions it. A “growing-up” has strong beliefs, but he knows to reach outside of them and grapple with the beliefs of others. A “growing-up” knows that the past pulses and breathes in the present, which she investigates with child-like curiosity. A “growing-up” has both confidence and humility; respect; openness; wonder.
Of course, the Humanities do not have a monopoly on supporting intellectual and moral growth, but they reflect a tradition, extending to classical antiquity, of examining the human experience critically, creatively, and continuously; in short, as a “growing-up” would. Modern Languages, History, Race Studies, Philosophy, Dance, Music, Religion, the Plastic Arts–these and other Humanities disciplines involve types of inquiry that balance questions and answers, the self and others, reality and prismatic, painterly fantasy. To study a foreign language and culture is to relativize your place in the world. To learn to see a lake as a painter sees it is to discover its blues, yes, but also its greens, yellows, browns, and reds. To study history is to meditate on both the incredible vision and sudden blindness of humankind. The Humanities bring to light a bigger, more complex world, one that incorporates the dancer’s sway, the singer’s song, the linguist’s metaphor, the historian’s tale, and the philosopher’s paradox. As the ultimate “growing-up,” Peter Pan, once said, to live would thus be “an awfully big adventure.”
Katherine Walker is Assistant Professor of Music at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. Her research interests include eighteenth-century musical aesthetics and intersections of race popular music in the U.S. since 1920.