Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Don't Forget the Generalist

One of the hardest things about being a homemaker is that you are forced to be a generalist in a world of specialists. Being really good at something is lauded in our society. People who are the best at something are seen as being extra special. Homemakers, on the other hand, must be able to do many things. In fact, their time is divided between so many things that they don't have time to be the best at one thing. I am a very average homemaker, but some of the women I know are amazingly capable in so many areas of life. One look into their lives exposes the amazing ingenuity by which they do life. The funny thing is that these women will never be recognized for it. They may be better cooks then most people, but not as good as a chef. They may have made their homes more beautiful and functional then the average person could, but they can never be as good as a professional interior designer. They may be incredibly skilled in finances, organization, hospitality, parenting, laundry, cutting hair, getting ink stains out of couches, shopping, gardening, counselling kids, teaching kids about every aspect of life imaginable, making viking ships out of cardboard boxes, etc., but there will always be someone better. There is always the specialist.

Another difficulty is how society disrespects homemakers. I'm sure there was a time when women who worked were shunned by the majority of stay-at-home-moms, but the situation has radically shifted. Many good things happened with the rise of feminism. I'm thankful for the right to vote and for equality for women in the workforce (at least theoretically). But one of the things I am least thankful for is the humiliation of homemakers. Every woman knows what I mean. You go to the chiropractor and fill out the form. Under "occupation" you hesitate to write. Why? Our society scoffs at homemakers. (One receptionist after reading my form told me I should have put "Domestic Goddess" and I did appreciate her sense of humor...but I digress.)

This leads me to ask the question: Would the world be a better place if everyone specialized? Is society benefited by a bunch of generalists?

Ken Robinson wrote an interesting book entitled The Element in which he argues that everyone must find the place where their unique talent meets their personal passion. This is their element. He argues that if everyone was functioning in their element the world would be a better place. I agree with a lot of what he says, but I have to admit that I am skeptical about one thing. I believe that the world needs generalists as much as it needs specialists. These generalists may not always be functioning in their element. They may just be doing what needs to be done.

I don't think I need to say why specialists are so great for society. We are all thankful for a good medical specialist, lawyer, banker, dentist or theologian when we need them. Not to mention how a really good musician or artist enriches our lives.

But generalists are the glue that holds the world of specialists together. They are able to cross boundaries and understand better the world as a whole. Generalists often have a supportive role--a role that helps others be the best they can be. Homemakers are not the only generalists in society. Pastors and teachers are other examples. They are often overworked and undervalued. I am sure there are many other examples of generalists in our society, but my point is this:

Maybe we need to reassess our definition of success. Maybe we need to stop pushing our kids to be the best at something. Maybe for some of us, there is a life of richness and fullness in the ordinary. Maybe we need to stop worshiping the Donald Trump's and Angelina Jolie's of our world and instead start giving respect to the people who are working in the background to enrich the lives of others.

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