Thursday, August 7, 2014

David O'Fallon - What do the humanities mean to you?

David O’Fallon, PhD, is the President and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

The future is not written. The future is not a given. We make it as we go. But what shall we make? What kind of world do we imagine? What kind of world do we hope to live in? To what end do we direct our work and our lives? 

The "humanities" are forms of knowledge and ways of understanding that give us both the resources and the tools to imagine and create a future that can hold us all. Given the power of technology and the fact that we are 7 billion people and growing, we have a new responsibility and a new capacity to make a future that includes all of us. A future that is humane and sustainable. A future that values each person and knows and articulates how deeply connected we are.

To live into this responsibility and realize the capacity without the humanities is dangerous if not impossible. It is the difference between Sparta and Athens. The humanities include the knowledge and wisdom of all the peoples that have asked and lived the questions that still live with us – the fundamental questions of what kind of world will we create? What is a meaningful life?  What relationships are best for the individual, the society, and the increasingly global community?

You are invited to actively engage these questions – to draw upon philosophy, ethics, literature, history, the arts, and the wisdom of many cultures.  Of course, there is no single right answer to these questions. However, the humanities allow us to learn and come to new understandings of ourselves and our world.

We now realize how interconnected and interdependent we all are. We now know that water, which once seemed inexhaustible, is a resource more fragile than we previously believed. That the rapid climate change underway affects us all. We feel the public’s concern over the achievement gap in Minnesota schools and elsewhere. We are discouraged and upset by government gridlock and a coarse public discourse.

Why is that? What shall we do?

We see that these are not just technical, scientific, or management problems. They are human problems. They stem from values and beliefs that must be examined.

Where do we turn? We turn to the humanities. Join us. Join in the search for what holds us together and strengthens our common humanity, rather than that which divides and separates us. This is not to create a bland mush – to wipe out the many varieties of human knowledge, perception, and experience. Instead, we learn that we thrive on variety, connection, and relationships. No single point of view or narrative can hold us all. The humanities invite us into the creative work of knowing each other in new ways—eyes, heart, and head all open.

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