I have been accused (?) informed (?) on a few occasions that I am a polymath—that I have a very broad range of knowledge and skills and am competent in several fields. I have some doubts about that, myself, but the polite response is to thank the speaker and change the topic.
For starters, I’m not as skilled as people think. Second, I don’t know as much as people think – I have a bird-bath knowledge base. It is quite broad. It is also quite shallow once you get away from “my” field. Third, the combination of the first two means I can give the impression of competence as long as I’m not asked to actually do X or expand on Y. That doesn’t make me a polymath. It makes me unfocused. I’m rather like a shotgun, but less useful in the real world.
What it also shows is that I have never learned to rein in my curiosity and focus. I will happily squander an hour of archive time browsing geology and other out-of-field journals. My bookshelves groan under volumes ranging from fiction and fantasy to history (environmental, military, political, social, religious, European, Asian, US, Russian, yes), geology, natural history, civil engineering, archaeology and anthropology (not always in English). My Amazon purchases must make the “also-bot”‘s processors smoke trying to find a pattern other than “interesting.”
Yes, I can cook, clean,
bury grow plants, fly and mend airplanes, mend clothes, clean small game (have not had the opportunity to clean larger game but I know the theory), do basic carpentry and use hand tools and some power tools without burning the house down. And? That’s what you do if you want to keep your house from falling down on your head, or your clothes from being more hole than clothes.
I’m well-rounded, not a polymath. What is worrisome is that we, as a general social whole, have reached the point where being well-rounded seems rare. I first realized that something was odd when the Old Guard at my college had a collective cow because so many current students (mid 1990s) wanted a basic home-ec course with cooking 101, how to balance a checkbook, and stain-removal sorts of skills. Horror! Vapors! Swoon! That’s not what real women want!! Well, these 18-22 year old women wanted it. I shrugged, rolled my eyes, and kept cooking curries and mending seams.
Rant on: (I swear, do clothing manufacturers not think that real people might put a bit of stress on garments when they put them on, or might pull what looks like a bit of leftover thread? Knot your flippin’ ends, people!) End rant.
You see, I have tools. My parents, teachers, and mentors did not give me skills or knowledge per se. They gave me the tools to acquire, mend, learn what needed to be done, and kept me from killing myself. I suspect the younger set has been so protected, and their parents as well, that they don’t know how to approach tools, physical or mental, let alone use them without being spooked. And without the exposure to tools, without an un-leashed curiosity, they don’t go snooping and nibbling and exploring. It’s not safe to go exploring, you see. You never know quite what you might end up doing. Like, oh, studying abroad, or cooking strange things, or learning how to build furniture and repair sheet rock, or write books and speak in strange tongues.