One Purpose of Arts and Humanities Education

A lack of arts and humanities education (or at least exploration) will limit your ability to lead.

This is the realization that I had reading a book on leadership recently. The book did not explicitly say as much, but there are some implicit facets to leadership that suggest that a background exclusively in mathematics and hard sciences would cripple one’s ability to lead.

That isn’t to say that STEM-style thought has no bearing on leadership whatsoever. There are plenty of benefits to that education, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and formal logic. These are all great things for a leader to be able to do. However, there are many more skills that a leader must have that I have yet to see STEM education touch. For example, empathy is a key skill that no amount of STEM education could ever develop. The ability to consider other people as other people is one of the things that separates great leaders from horrible bosses, and empathy can’t really be learned except through two modes: interacting with others and art appreciation broadly speaking (that is to say, “art” encompassing performing arts, fine arts, and literature).

Though there is a creativity to problem solving, expressive creativity is not often touched by STEM education, though it certainly could be to some extent. At the high school and lower level, however, expressive creativity is most easily encouraged through the arts because those fields are easier to convey expression and exploration to young minds. STEM at that level most naturally lends itself to conveying discovery and procedural learning.

However, none of this matters without a key ingredient, and that key ingredient can’t be taught. It can only be discovered, and that ingredient is passion. Without passion, no one leads well, nor does anyone work at peak performance. Passion is discovered, however, through two processes that is much more strongly stressed by art and the humanities: self-reflection and meta-thought. Thinking about why you do what you do is the start of finding passion for what you do, or discovering that you have a passion for something else. Meta-thought, thinking about how you think, allows you to course-correct your actions through your thoughts, and leads to the intentionality that it takes to win.

Art and humanities education is not a waste of time. That is, of course, unless you do not value the virtues of a great leader.

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