On the Common 061
Load up the truck and throw the hat.
We’re almost through January! How is everyone doing?
There are only two and a half weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. That means that Truck Day is next week. Behold the relative hopelessness of February in Boston: people will turn out to celebrate the loading of over 20,000 baseballs into a truck because it is the very first sign of spring.
The Part Where There’s an Essay: In Praise of Generalists, PLUS My Million-Dollar Idea
(An excerpt from a book that I will publish maybe someday)
In his book What’s Wrong With The World, GK Chesterton reminds us of the value of generalists. A generalist is someone who is sort of good at many different things. His primary example is the stay-at-home mom, who makes countless pretty-good meals, does a decent job keeping the family organized and clean, and is a decent influence in her home and community.
She is not a “specialist” -- the word Chesterton uses in contrast to a generalist. A specialist would be a world-class chef or a professional home organizer or a children’s librarian. But because her efforts are divided across such a broad spectrum of abilities, the mom excels mainly at being herself and doing the things that her people need. Her good influence is narrow (she serves a small number of people) but broad (she performs a wide array of duties).
Our culture undervalues generalists.
Unfortunately, the advent of social media has brought about pressure like never before to be a specialist in a broad range of areas. The average person logs into Instagram and sees an array of delicious, healthy meals, beautifully decorated homes, children in embroidered clothing with perfect hair -- all made possible by the woman behind the camera, dressed in the latest trend, and sporting perfectly applied makeup.
What the pictures don’t say is that these images are mostly brought about by specialists! The person is excelling in that area at the expense of other areas. No one can be a specialist in that many things. It’s not possible. Your travel blogger Instagram friend, though she appears to do it all by herself, is most likely supported by a small army of specialists: a marketer, an assistant, a hairdresser, a manager, and an editor.
Beyond recognizing the false idea of the specialist-in-all-areas-of-life, let’s think about the value of the generalist. No one can do what the generalist does in his particular area of influence. While his skill set seems replaceable -- someone else could read that story to that child or show up to serve in that volunteer slot at church -- no one can do it with that particular personality, with those particular people. Even when it seems like someone else could do it, the generalist brings tremendous value just by being himself and filling the role.
What does a generalist do in a friend group or local church community? He brings the snacks for small group, not apologizing that it’s something he bought at the grocery store on the way. She supplies a meal for a person in need and is not ashamed that it’s a gift card to a local restaurant instead of a home-cooked three-course feast. She gives somebody a ride home. He shows up at a kid’s birthday party and helps clean up when it’s over.
None of the things I’ve listed above are amazing. None of them show great skill or ability in a particular area. But each task brings value to the community it serves. And that is the material point -- being a generalist means you are a specialist at being where you are. You bring value to the people you’ve been planted alongside.
Here’s my million-dollar idea for someone who wants to encourage generalists in one arena for the next generation: please establish a low-expectation sports league alternative for elementary and middle school students. Sports in the USA get way too time-intensive too early in life. Not every child can be “specialist”-level good at everything, and they should not be expected to lend that kind of time to a “generalist”-level past time.
This new league would do the following:
expose children to a variety of sports, teaching skills and teamwork
All ages practice a MAXIMUM of two nights a week (and not different nights from other ages), allowing families to still gather together around a meal most nights of the week.
have large enough teams that participation in Saturday games or matches is encouraged but optional. All matches conclude by noon on Saturday, allowing some downtime for people to rest and regroup before Sunday worship.
Someone please do this and restore sports sanity to people’s lives.
For the Anglophiles
HATS! Mandatory hats! People throwing mandatory hats! WHAT A DELIGHT.
Reads & Listens of the Week
My Dear Wormwood: A Screwtape Letter on the Art of Smartphone Addiction. “My dear Wormwood, I was pleased to hear you’ve been assigned a new charge: a young suburban mother of three who is prone to oversharing on social media and relies on her phone as a tether to the adult world.”
I loved the CT profile of Malcolm Guite, who I introduced you to last year. His interview with Russell Moore was also brilliant. The titles circle around how he’s helpful for “bruised evangelicals,” but I think everyone would benefit. Don’t miss the part where he calls our tendency to use computer terms for humans “an appalling blasphemy.”
Here’s a picture of what the end of zero-covid has looked like for China. I have many thoughts about this, but mostly it just made me sad.
This went around in late November, and I forgot to hand it to you then. Please watch:
The response to a world where doubt is celebrated should not be a church where doubt is condemned. - Trevin Wax, The Thrill of Orthodoxy
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Wow! The Screwtape letter on the art of smartphone addiction was very cleverly written, and cunningly observant. This will not be an article I forget quickly... Bravo, and ouch.
THE HAT! How ridiculous. I love it.