In ancient India, there existed an art form called Avadhānaṃ. It is a literary performance in which the performer (avadhāni) responds to multiple stimuli in an orderly fashion. Let us travel back to the time when India was known as "the golden bird." Imagine you are in the royal auditorium of an emperor in southern India. The auditorium is filled with people and you can feel the excitement as the performance is about to begin! As the avadhāni takes his places, there is absolute silence. The pruchchakas (think of them as the quiz-masters) also take their places. They may either question the performer or cause any form of visual or auditory distractions (let's imagine that they are ringing a bell and waving coloured flags). The quiz-masters do their best and pose questions in the form of riddles and puzzles. But, the performer not only answers all the questions correctly but also tells the exact number of times the bell was rung and the order in which the coloured flags were waved. For an avadhāni to be able to answer all the questions, he not only has to be an expert in literature but also in other subjects like science, mathematics, political science etc. because while answering the questions he also has to entertain the general audience. If an avadhāni answers to eight quiz-masters, he is known as Ashtaavadhāni, if ten - Dashaavadhāni, if one hundred - Shataavadhāni!
Another similar concept of competitive spontaneous poetry called Tarahi Mushaira was prevalent in the Mughal era in Northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan. We are aware of the Renaissance period in Europe which gave birth to legends like Galileo Galili, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, who were all polymaths. Now, that brings us to the question: Are jacks of all trades, masters of none? How did we end up living a life so different from a society that encouraged multiple interests?
The answer lies in the industrialization era. In the mid-18th century, there was a huge increase in the number of industries, which also provided employment. Although the concept of division of labour existed before the industrial revolution, it was during this period that the shift towards specialization began. A labourer working on a single task needed less training time, increased productivity and could also be paid less, which was perfect for that time. As this went on for a longer time, people forgot their infinite potential and believed that specialization was the only way of life. Status quo bias (a cognitive bias which makes the people resist change) made sure that we continued this way of life until very recently.
When we welcomed 2020, we did not expect all it brought! A pandemic, loss of lives and jobs, economic downfall, natural disasters. My heart goes out to those who lost their loved ones this year. The year 2020 made us question our way of living, evaluate our priorities at a personal and global level.
If we look back in time, Black Death during the 14th century led to the rebirth of society - The Renaissance!
Similarly, this black cloud (COVID-19) also has a silver lining. Although it isolated us in the physical world, it united us in the virtual world. It also guided us to embrace the diversity within us. We got back in touch with our hobbies and many turned them into businesses!
There came the age of eclectomorphs (I made up that word, but please do hear me out). Eclectomorph is formed by merging two words - eclectic and metamorphosis, meaning transformation derived from diversity. Having multiple passions not only changes a person on an intellectual level but also transforms them on an emotional and spiritual level.
How so? When the rest of the world is trying to think outside the box, multi-passionate people know that there is no box. A person with diverse interests sees the connection between various disciplines. This is what makes them come up with unique ideas. At the intersection of multiple disciplines lies ground-breaking innovation. This very same outlook helps them to be more inclusive and open to unconventional ideas. This makes them harmonious and collaborative.
Eclectomorphs are those multi-passionate people who have not only embraced diversity within themselves but also in the world.
Does this mean all of us must now become multi-passionates? Not at all! Emilie Wapnick writes in her book, How to be Everything (Wapnik, 2017): "Specialists and generalists are both needed. But often in different contexts.".
Although all of us have more than one interest, I do agree that not all of us would want to pursue many interests. Some like to focus on one field while others like to broaden their horizon. What we can do is accept everyone's uniqueness. We can be equally welcoming to both kinds of people and be more inclusive. We can stop the seemingly never-ending debate of knowledge vs. skill, generalist vs. specialist. We can agree that this world needs both equally and neither can exist without the other. A specialist can be an eclectomorph if he/she accepts the diversity and believes in collaboration over competition. That's my vision for the age of eclectomorphs.
How can we achieve this in the real world?
Awareness: In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardener published a book on the theory of multiple intelligences. It has been updated from the original seven types of intelligence to eleven. Parents and teachers must be made aware of this theory which sheds light on various other forms of intelligence so that they can identify each child's individuality.
Holistic education system: For a very long time, we have given importance to IQ (Intelligence Quotient). The conventional education system only rewards logical intelligence. It should change so that a child develops as a balanced person. Personality quotients like EQ, CQ, SQ (Emotional, Creative and Spiritual Quotients respectively) must also be evaluated. This can help in the overall development of a child.
Career-guidance for multi-passionate individuals: There is a plethora of information and guidance for anyone who wants to focus on one field, but as a multi-passionate individual it was incredibly difficult for me to find proper guidance. The conventional way of career guidance is oblivious to the needs of people like us, which is why I now help multi-passionate people. We need career counsellors who can guide someone who does not want to fit in a box.
Inclusive workplace culture: Multi-passionate individuals are quick learners and they do not give up when the going gets tough. Transferring knowledge from one industry to another sets multi-passionate people apart. Rather than rejecting a person with experience in multiple disciplines, give them an opportunity. You might be pleasantly surprised by their ideas. If you need creative ideas, you must be looking for multi-passionate individuals.
Harmonious society: A society built out of mutual respect despite our differences is the need of the hour. The age-old debate between specialists and generalists must stop. History has proved time and again that too much of anything is harmful. We need to strive for balance in personal life and on a global level. We should not just aim to co-exist but must collaborate and create a new era.
Did you know that avadhānis are present in today's world too? Tarahi mushairas are also conducted. The most exciting news leading towards the age of eclectomorphs is an innovative dual-degree program which would create physicianeers! Thanks to Professor Derek O'Keeffe's vision, the National University of Ireland Galway has introduced Europe's first dual-degree programme combining medicine and engineering. As a healthcare professional, I am very excited about this programme because this initiative focuses not just on diagnosing and treating the patients with the available options, but also pushes the boundaries and promotes professionals to come up with creative ideas to solve a problem resulting in better healthcare service.
If better healthcare is one of the possibilities of collaboration, imagine how the world can transform for better with multi-disciplinary collaborations. Nature has given us clear signs to re-evaluate and change for the better. The future is in our hands.
"It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change."
- Charles Darwin