Only Connect

July 17, 2020

Over the years I have been blessed by many humanities moments, but there is one that I especially cherish. Some fifteen years ago, I happened upon an article in The American Scholar written by a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who put forth the ten qualities he believed a person would acquire from having a solid liberal arts education. It was the tenth quality on his list that got me. It was “Only Connect,” two words taken from a work by E. M. Forster. By this, the professor meant that a liberal arts education enables a person to have the freedom to connect — with different ideas, with different people, with different possibilities. It gives us, he wrote, the wisdom and the desire to connect with the human community.

This was a major humanities moment for me because it gave me the answer to a question I had been pondering for over fifty years. Why did I have the feeling, however vague, that the courses in the humanities I had taken when I was a student at Duke University somehow helped me in every volunteer leadership role I had ever undertaken — whether it was starting a job training program for high school drop-outs, or helping start a history museum, or serving on a community foundation? The professor’s tenth point, “Only Connect,” had answered my question. What a gratifying humanities moment.