Plato, Politics & A Plea for Liberal Arts

How Studying What I Love Gave Me Context, a Career and Hope

Trump’s victory shocked nations.

I admit to being one of the stupefied. Then I stopped, thought about it and realized I’d forgotten my formal training.

I studied liberal arts and journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax (full disclosure – I continue to support the school in a professional capacity.)

 FYP friends then and now.

FYP friends then and now.

As a student of the Foundation Year Programme (FYP) and Journalism school, I spent my days reading and discussing philosophy in small groups, guided by passionate tutors. I handed in papers every 10 days and saw the bulk of my grade come down to how well I could defend my thoughts in front of a group of intimidatingly folk wearing a lot of tweed.  

In theory, I should be jobless … right?

But – across north America – rumblings about liberal arts stretch into silicone valley and new job opportunities.

That Useless Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket,” screamed a Forbes headline in 2015.

New research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that students who graduated in 2015 with bachelors degrees in liberal arts and the humanities have done better in the job market than their counterparts from a year earlier. Six months after graduation, a greater percentage had landed full-time work and were earning more, to boot,” reads an excerpt from Time.com in October, 2016.

And then, on the morning of November 9th, as a surprised world reeled at the US election results, I remembered my classical training. It gave me comfort, but it also reminded me of the philosophy that’s been an undercurrent of western civilization since 428 – 348 BC and Plato and Socrates, who seem almost like soothsayers these days.

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light,” - Plato

I’m not alone.

“This election season has certainly brought all the old books back, and my crew from King's has been chiming in all along with ideas never want to reconcile,” wrote a friend and former classmate of mine on Facebook. “Today I'm thinking about the week we looked at the Roman Empire, and what made Romans in the Republic say to Augustus, here's the total government. Take it all, do what you have to do … FYP is earworm that never leaves you, and I wish you all the power in the world to use the force for good.”

So what does this have to do with anything?

I believe those lucky enough to have taken liberal arts, now have the capacity to connect the dots between modern politics and the philosophy, theory and historical context that came before us. This can be comforting at times … and frustrating.

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors,” – Plato.

Context helps us see and predict patterns. A background in important philosophy means we can become more attune to human nature and to the pitfalls and triumphs that are possible.

This also helps with life, with jobs. The ability to see context, predict patterns and make connections, is vital in the communications field. I speak and meet with people from all industries, from all types of hierarchies. On these calls, in these rooms, I must bring perspective, ideas, and insights that matter to them and where they’re coming from.

Then there’s journalism. A job choking out its last breath? A romantic notion that went out of style with Woodward and Bernstein?

Oh no.

My friends at King’s tell me interest in journalism is high this year as they travel from city to city to meet with prospective students.

No wonder.

The North American and international political climate proves, each day, the importance of bringing stories into the open. The proliferation of new channels and formats in which to tell stories is powerful as well. 360 video, virtual reality, live video streams on Facebook are just some of the ways people can immerse themselves in current events.

Even if a newsroom isn’t in your future, learning to write a good hook, to find the angle, the way to give your interview subjects room to think and provide authentic stories over soundbites, and – most importantly – how to meet deadlines, are skillsets that apply to every career you’ll ever encounter.

So, as we face a new reality, I’m thankful for the education that is helping me to put things in context and to read the nuances and conversations happening between the conversations. It’s helping me make sense of the world.

I’m also happy it gave me the skills to pay the bills.

Oh, and don’t forget, there’s always a glimmer of hope to be found in the past, which we can apply to our future.

 “The Measure of a man is what he does with power.” - Plato