A couple of years ago, I came across an article in Stanford magazine titled How to Become a Successful Human.
The article expresses the university’s concern about a growing trend it sees: fewer and fewer students are taking courses in humanities, instead favoring subjects with a more utilitarian bent, such as technology, engineering, law, and medicine.
The number of students majoring in Stanford’s humanities departments has declined by 25 percent in the past two decades, the articles states. English and history, among the five most popular majors a few years ago, have been eclipsed by computer science, human biology, engineering, and economics. Only 10 to 18 percent of the university’s undergraduate applicants indicate a primary interest in the humanities.
“In this era of anxiety about graduates finding jobs, the humanities are the subject of an intense debate about relevance and value,” the article continues. “Add to that a nationwide push to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as the key to America’s future well-being, and humanities can be a tough sell.”
Senior Associate Dean for the Humanities and Arts Debra Satz summarizes the problem she sees: “Studying the humanities—deeply engaging with other societies, with other ways of seeing and ways of doing—is important for living in a globalized world. If the humanities become marginal in our undergraduate education, then an important tool we have for understanding the lives of others will be lost.”
As the editor points out, humanities provide us with:
- A handle on what we value (philosophy)
- What mistakes we’ve learned from (history)
- How to understand other cultures (comparative literature)
- How to interpret and describe our daily lives (languages)
Seeing this list of benefits, familiar to any humanities major, I immediately saw a parallel with some of the insights and success principles shared in the Networking Times issue on Growing Your Contact List, especially as they relate to approaching strangers, building rapport, and engaging people in your business.
It seems as though the study of humanities forms a perfect foundation for developing what we call people skills. While humanities majors are suspected of having no “real” or marketable skills, as the Stanford article describes, business leaders know that developing our ability to understand the lives of others can be one of our most valuable assets.
If in your youthful ignorance you skipped the humanities courses for topics which you hoped would give you a higher return, it’s never too late to catch up. When doing business in another country, learn at least how to say “Hi!” and “Thank you!” in the local language. Once in a while, visit a museum or art exhibit, switch on the history channel, and learn about cultural traditions other than your own.
Grow your understanding of where you came from and become interested in the lives of others. You will become a more attractive human and others will flock to you.
Dr. Josephine Gross is Cofounder and Editor in Chief of Networking Times. Born and raised in Belgium, she came to the U.S. to do her Ph.D. in languages at Stanford University. Together with her husband Chris Gross, she founded Networking Times in 2001 and today it is the leading publication for network marketing in the world. Josephine interviews network marketing leaders from all over the world, asking them exactly how they built their businesses so readers can instantly benefit from their experience and shorten their learning curve. Read more about her here.