Monday, July 01, 2002

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

I read Heinlein before I became a critical reader. Much of his philosophy seems self evident truth to me. If you consider that quote as a quick quiz on your competence as a well-rounded human being, how did you do? Do you think these standards are too high?

Doug and I talk about "Heinlein heroes". They are remarkably competent -- whatever it comes their way to do, they manage. He had none of this fashion for flawed heroes! His books contain plenty of conflict without any arising from the heroes' incompetency -- a plot style I'd like to see more often filmed.

Now that I am a more critical reader, I notice that Heinlein spanned several axes of accomplishment in that quote. "Change a diaper, plan an invasion" suggests infancy to war, birth to death. "Pitch manure, program a computer" spans rural, biological, low tech to urban, electronic, high tech. Note also that the list that begins with "change a diaper" ends with "die gallantly", while "write a sonnet, balance accounts" covers what we call right and left brain activities. If you look for more, you'll find it. All from a man writing in 1973 before computers were widespread and right brain/left brain had become a popular concept.

So, returning to the discussion of adulthood in my previous post -- do you have to be a full-spectrum Heinlein hero to be an adult? No, though it's nice to have models to aspire to. But you won't trip my adult meter unless you have a competency in at least one work skill, one relationship skill, and something outside yourself that is important to you.