This is the second part of a comment to a post from a fellow blogger. You can find his post here, and the first part to my response here. I hope you enjoy these new reflections on his essay about the dangers of overspecialisation.
– The crazy Colombian
REFLECTIVE COMMENT #1 – ON LETTERS AND THEIR HIDDEN MEANING
Andrés Melo Cousineau, a fellow blogger, wrote ‘Reflections: T and Omega, a critical stance on our dangerous desire for overspecialization‘. With it, Andres takes us on a journey of reflection about the strong underlying current of over-specialisation in modern society; warns us of its perils; and articulates an alternative: The proactive and conscious development of ‘Omega-type’ of individuals, through the application of liberal education principles.
In his essay Andres reflects on letters, their hidden meaning and their values. I particularly enjoyed Andres’ transcription of Anne Carson’s Eros the bittersweet, a poem where an illiterate man describes with great beauty the letters (in Greek) of the word Theseus. At the end of his ruminations, Andres encourages us to reflect on the letters that make our own name. What additional insights about ourselves could be hidden in their form? What additional beauty can we find in their intrinsic shapes?
I decided to take Andres’ challenge, and look at my initials: the lettes ‘D’ and ‘V’. As soon as I thought about it, I realised the high degree of symbolism hidden in them. We’ll get to that in a few minutes. Let me first review some of Andres’ ideas. In his writing, Andres’ shares an equation that is a good synthesis of the evolution he advocates:
↑ < T < ∆ < > ۞ Ω
On the left hand side, we have an upward arrow; a symbol of the forever increasing levels of specialisation in our modern society. On the right-hand side, we have the letter omega, a symbol of a well-rounded individual that results from disciplined application of a liberal approach to education, both in the classroom and outside of it.
According to this sequence, My initial (D, or in greek, ∆) tells me that I am two steps short of the ‘highest’ level attainable in Andres’ evolutionary hierarchy. To some extent, this is in concordance with my self image of a self-actualised ‘T-minded’ type who is on a journey to become more well-rounded. My own self-image is that of someone who is expanding his horizons and wants to develop skills at a deeper level than I currently have, but doesn’t want to become an expert in only one topic. In other words, I believe I am trying to become exactly what Andres’ describes as a ‘Well rounded Ω-type individual’. I can also see how I am beyond the mere ‘T-type’, with its shallowest understanding of all topics except that in which expertise has been built. According to Andres’ hierarchy, I can safely say I would consider myself a Delta (∆), and my Name’s initial confirms this.
What about my last name’s initial? The letter V reminded me of Dan Brown’s best seller The Da Vinci Code. In this book, Dan brown tells us that the letter V symbolizes the womb, where all life is created; and the chalice, where ‘the blood of Christ’ is collected for the sacrament of communion. What could this say about me?
Using the image of the womb, I could say that maybe my initial motivates me to be a nurturing person; to be one that cares about helping others grow and learn. I think of myself as someone with a passion for teaching and helping others’ in whatever journey they’re in; whether that’s the way I come across or not, I guess, is something I might have to ask others. Nevertheless, if I take my most recent project (‘Pass it Forward‘) as an indication of how I really am, it may agree with that meaning of the letter V.
A second explanation is that I am someone with a deep spiritual vein; someone for whom symbols and rituals are important. This is only partly true. From an early age in my catholic upbringing, I abandoned the rituals of going to church on a regular basis and participating on the sacrament of communion. On the other hand, I have built into my life a series of rituals (let’s call them habits) that sustain my spiritual growth; The latest one of which is a discipline to meditate either at the start of (or in the middle of) the day. Either way, this desire to build routines and rituals to achieve a deeper level of spirituality in my life could resonate with the second meaning of the letter V.
There is a third, more sinister meaning of the letter V worth considering. As Andres reminded us, Shaw once said “More and more, we know more of less; until there will come a time when we will know much of nothing, and nothing of the whole.” In a very graphic way, the letter V depicts this journey: At its top, we have a broad base, which then narrows quickly, like a funnel; until we end up covering the uni-dimensional space of a dot (“Until we know (…) nothing of the whole“). In this meaning I see a hidden warning within my own initial to avoid overspecialisation. Why would such a warning be required when I am a Delta-type of individual? Because at my most-inner core, there is a deep passion for success; and in today’s world, success is directly correlated to the level of overspecialisation one has. Thus a warning is required.
As I wrote this, I was reminded of an Oracle tool that I use with frequency, and the way it describes many situations. This tool is the I Ching , an ancient Chinese book also called ‘the book of changes’. It is based on hexagrams of broken and solid lines, with 64 possible permutations. Each hexagram is composed of two ‘core’ trigrams; and each trigram has its own name. Think about the I Ching’s hexagrams as the initials to two names. Interestingly, in the description of each oracle sign found in the Spanish translation of this book, you will encounter very graphical descriptions and interpretations of the trigrams and hexagrams. For example, it will say things such as ‘With weak elements on the tips and strong elements in the middle, this hexagram represents a wooden beam, under some pressure and strain, bending at the tips in its weakest points.” (N.B. I am writing this from memory, so it may not be totally accurate). This type of analysis of the FORM of a symbol reminded me of what Andres did in his entry, and of what happened as I took on his recommendation to ask myself the hidden meaning of my own name’s letters.
But enough about me. The reason I started writing this post was because as Andres reflected on the transition from an upward arrow (I contend it should point downward) to a T, to a ∆(Delta), to an Omega, I was reminded of something else. As some of you may know, I worked for one of the world’s top Strategic Business Consulting Firms. Within ‘The Firm’ (as they called themselves) there was a strategy to develop in their people ‘double T’ type of individuals.
What did they mean by this? Well, that they wanted to offer the opportunity to their consultants to work across a broad range of topics; whilst at the same time help them develop a deep specialist ‘spike’. Why double T? Because there should, idealy, be two spikes: An industry they get to really know; and a functional area they are experts in. So for example, you may became a specialist in Financial Services (Industry) and Operations (function); Or in Telecommunications (Industry) and Marketing (Function). In some cases, the spikes were much deeper: I developed expertise in Marketing analytics (deep functional spike) for Financial Services organisations (Industry spike).
This brings us back to the letter Omega. To some extent, the letter still has two ‘foundations’ at its base; It also represents an Arch, with its implicit balance supported by two solid foundations. This configuration really resonated with my previous experience of ‘double spikes’; And so there is one more reason why the letter Omega, in addition to its illustration of ‘Well rounded’ individuals, can also give way to the idea that our specialisation should be in two areas, not just one. It is those areas that become the foundation for a well balanced, well rounded individual