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In today’s world, having a liberal arts education is crucial. This has been a necessity for centuries, but it is important to remember it now – Why: because in today’s world, most students feel as if getting this essential education is pointless, depending on their majors. For example, a dancer or fine arts student may think they should not have to go further with liberal arts since their field of study does not seem to deal with liberal arts. However, they are wrong; liberal arts is in everything. In David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water” and Nicholas Kristof’s article “Starving for Wisdom,” the value of a liberal arts education is addressed and explained through facts and real-life experiences. Though Wallace and Kristof both put it in different perspectives, the necessity of receiving this education is clear; all students should put the time and effort into liberal arts now so that they may receive the benefit of being more empathetic later in life.
Kristof argues that having a liberal arts education is beneficial for the simple fact that one gains many interpersonal and technical skills from it. He writes that “liberal arts [equips] students with communications and interpersonal skills that are valuable and genuinely rewarded in the labor force, especially when accompanied by technical abilities” (Kristof para.7). With the massive boom in technology, having technical skills is key to getting a good job; these skills accompanied with soft – or communication – skills is what makes an applicant the most hirable for any job.
Something both “Starving for Wisdom” and “This is Water” cover is the connection of liberal arts to emotion; however, the two are in opposition of each other. Kristof writes that “literature nurtures a richer emotional intelligence,” which is beneficial to life around us and our reliance on our relationships with others (Kristof para.14). This claim is backed up by Kristof by including the research done by various science studies, all of which come to the conclusion that “literature seems to offer lessons in human nature that help us decode the world around us and be better friends” (Kristof para.15). In short, we can understand others better and be able to create firmer and healthier relationships with them through liberal arts.
Contrary to Kristof’s claim, Wallace states that “this is not a matter of virtue,” but rather, it is a matter of “choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of . . . this lens of self” (Wallace 3). Wallace is saying that you do not have to be a flawlessly selfless person as soon as you read a book or receive a liberal arts education, but instead, once you finish that book or get that education, you should learn to see things in a different light and think differently than our inherent self-centered minds. He states that liberal arts should open your eyes into adjusting from self-centered to open-minded, for your own benefit. According to Wallace, it is more important to gain this new perspective for yourself alone rather than doing it for others.
Wallace knows that one way to get his audience to listen to what he’s saying and actually process the information is to captivate them with a relatable experience. He tells a few didactic short stories throughout his speech, but the one that really sticks out is when he speaks about the dreaded routine that is going to the grocery store. Wallace talks about how there is always that feeling of annoyance and arrogance within himself when shopping; that he feels superior to everyone and they are all in his way. However, later Wallace goes on to say we should not think this way. Rather, we should consider all the variables, like how maybe there is an over-irritable woman, but she could have possibly stayed up all night to take care of her sick baby, or maybe there is someone driving far too slow on the road, but there’s the possibility that they could have been in a traumatic accident and driving again is a huge step for them, and etc. Wallace says that it is possible some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do,” but “if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently . . . and learn how to pay attention” (Wallace 7-8). Ultimately, Wallace is trying to say that we need to be more empathetic towards others, and this would not be possible without receiving the fundamentals of a liberal arts education to understand these circumstances.
Getting a liberal arts education should not be something that students should have to mull over. In order to be the most successful in the workplace and in relationships, having the skills that go along with liberal arts is crucial. Because of these reasons and countless others, everyone should get an education in liberal arts.
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