The Well-Rounded Human

[H]istory has come to a state when the moral man, the complete man, is more and more giving 
way, almost without knowing it, to make room for the . . .
commercial man, the man of limited purpose. This process, aided
by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming gigantic
proportion and power, causing the upset of man’s moral balance,
obscuring his human side under the shadow of soul-less organization. --from Nationalism, 1917

The words above were written more than 100 years ago by renowned educator, Rabindranath Tagore. What would he say today if he could see our world? Of course, he would immediately recognize that it’s not just men but women too who are being commercialized and robbed of our wholeness. And he would argue even more loudly for our need for balance in education and in life.

Today’s educators speak of success as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose—the successful outcome of an undertaking. The word “aim” in this context points to the intention to achieve a single purpose, a desired outcome. “Achieve” means that we’ve done something successfully, usually involving effort, skill, and/or courage. Each of these terms when used by educators points to a cycle of educational life that we continually chase. However, no human being has a pre-defined single aim in life. As we grow, our priorities change, so our aims change too. This means that our version of success transforms as well. Do we really think that all kids have the same aim? And if not, then why do we so often compare our kids to others when it comes to grades?

Instead of comparing our kids to others, we should think more carefully about what education should really accomplish. I believe there are four pillars of education, but before describing these pillars, let’s define the single most important verb in education: “to learn.”

  • To learn means to gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.

Nothing in the definition, however, suggests that if you received less than the highest grades, you did not learn. Another important word in the definition is “something.” Learning involves acquiring knowledge or skill in anything! Finally, the process of learning is achieved through three key methods: study, experience, or being taught. Each could be defined this way:

  • Study – self-discipline to acquire knowledge using self-motivated study;
  • Experience – the art of letting an individual learn by doing. As they say – experience is the best teacher;
  • Being Taught – this is what schools and teachers provide.

We should note that only one of these three methods of learning is done in conjunction with schools and teachers. The other two are done by the individual acting in and with the world.

So what defines a well-rounded human? In my personal view, there are four pillars of success in learning (and it’s important to remember that in the model of lifelong learning, we are all students):

  • Education and Core Skills Creation – this pillar doesn’t refer just to the subjects we master and for which we receive the highest grades. How many of us have wanted to learn Mandarin, computer coding skills, robotics, or to become proficient in mental math? These are not core subjects in today’s education curricula, but they are important. And how much of the education theory we acquire do we really use in our working lives?
  • Sports – the cliché “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is not just a saying. Not only do sports help open the mind, but they channel our physical energy and teach us discipline and teamwork.
  • Music, Art, and the Performing Arts – I cannot imagine any human being who does not follow, listen to, or desire to learn about music or art. And we all watch dramas (including the famous soap operas and streaming sites like Netflix). We all participate passively in these activities, but there are also people who build skills in these fields. We often hear our parents say, “He/she sings so nicely” or “Look at that piece of art” or “What a great actor he/she is.” But what happens if we express to our parents that we want to become an actor, a musician, an author, or an artist? Too often, parents’ first concern is economic security, and the arts are notoriously fickle in terms of financial success. As parents we must become aware of the psychological and physiological needs of our youngsters to employ both parts of the brain, the left and the right brain, so they become more rounded and balanced human beings. Music, art, and the performing arts help us express our innate uniqueness. They bring balance to the mind and increase our ability to perceive the full beauty of what life and nature offer. (It will take a while before robots are able to replace this aspect of human beings!)
  • Philanthropy – if one has never enjoyed the art of giving, then he or she may never fully feel the joy of receiving. In an increasingly interconnected world, if one person can change the life of ten, and those ten change the lives of ten others, over time we would see a much more loving and joyful world. And by philanthropy I do not mean “giving to the poor” only. Think of a neighbor who may need help because he/she is physically challenged; think of a colleague who may need support with a particularly challenging subject or project. In fact, think of our own sons and daughters who may be in need of emotional support. Think too of the smile that will make someone’s day. By philanthropy I simply mean being willing to exercise our human ability to touch another’s life in whatever way we can. Charity may begin at home, but it surely does not end there.

From my perspective, it is the duty of all students—and everyone around the student (parents, teachers, schools)—to provide opportunities for all young people to explore each of these pillars, and most importantly, to cultivate integrity and balance.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please continue to tend to the “human” dimensions of yourself and your children. Education is never about a single “success” or “failure”—it is a continuous journey made up of many moments. We must cherish our learning and follow our dreams and passion. A well-rounded education ignites the thirst for knowledge, and authentic learning transforms the whole human being. It is important to pass tests and achieve good grades, but the grades we earn are only a small part of who we really are. Universities want to know you – the human called you!

Vikesh Gadhia, the author of this article, is a Rhodes Scholar who completed his master’s degree in Economics for Development from Oxford University (UK) & a Bachelor’s degree in Banking & Finance from Cardiff University (UK). He was on the selection committees of both the Rhodes Scholarship (UAE) and Schwarzman Scholarship (Global). He was also on the Board of Governors of Doha College (the only British Embassy-sponsored school in Qatar). He is a career banker, one of the director founders of TAVVY (an online education services company) and is an investor in the Modern Music Show in Dubai.