There is a saying attributed to the Greek poet Archilochus that goes, “The Fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one great thing.” The philosopher Isaiah Berlin was inspired by this pithy observation so he wrote an essay titled “The Hedgehog and the Fox” wherein he presented the idea that there are two types of thinkers: (1) those who understand the world around them through the lens of one big idea and (2) those who understand the world by drawing from a variety of ideas. Since then, people have used this model to describe their own approach to the life of the mind.
Personally, I’m a Fox—not an attractive person, but one who wants to know a little bit about everything. While most of my reading time is spent with books related to biblical studies and/or Christian theology there is no denying that I am almost as interested in other topics like contemporary religions, international politics, various sorts of philosophy, ethics, neuroscience, and professional sports. That is why this blog has failed to be strictly a biblioblog. I am not apt to isolate and compartmentalize my thought life. I understand the big picture when I factor all the smaller pieces and I understand the smaller pieces in light of the big picture.
You may be a Fox, and you may be a Fox with a blog, and this is fine as long as you are not a Fox with a blog applying for a job where the person reading your application is a Hedgehog. Many of the great minds are Hedgehogs who do the most exquisite research. These Hedgehogs are known for digging one well and digging it deep so that it provides water for a very long time. If your potential doctoral supervisor is a Hedgehog, and s/he finds your blog where you are talking about the Synoptic Problem and Obamacare and whether the Oakland Athletics can hold off the Texas Rangers in the AL West and the food swap you plan to attend next Saturday, it is quite possible that s/he won’t take you seriously. You should be studying your German and Latin right now, not watching baseball, not wasting time writing about a food swap, and definitely not getting mixed up in politics! Yes, you may have managed your time well enough to do all these things, but the person reading your application doesn’t know that, and your blog has made you looked like a scattered, undisciplined thinker.
It can be worse though. There are blogs where it seems like the writer feels the need to express his or her opinion about anything and everything. Someone who is reading this sort of blog may have all sorts of concerns. Why is this person so opinionated? Why does this person feel like they have to comment on everything and anything? Where does this person find time to blog this much? If this person is paying attention to all these other things how do I know they aren’t too distracted to be a dedicated student? You see where this is going. In addition, your opinion about politics may rub someone the wrong way and you do not want your opinion on Obamacare, or the Tea Party, or legalizing marijuana to distract someone who should be trying to find out whether you can contribute something to the crowded field of Pauline Studies. You might think that it is only ethical for them to ignore your personal convictions, but humans are humans, and if someone thinks that you may be a difficult person to supervise as a doctoral student because you’ve shared your opinion on everything under the sun, well, then you may find you don’t get an offer to study with that person you so admire.
It is one thing to be a student in the field of biblical studies who maintains a narrowly focused blog, writing on limited subjects like newly published books or lectures in your area. That can get you into trouble only if someone is against blogging in and of itself. It is when you begin to blog about what someone might consider irrelevant topics that you better be careful. Even if you’re a Fox, you may want to practice mimicking a Hedgehog, because when it comes down to it you are not likely to be judged on the basis of your ability to think about many things, but on the basis of whether or not you can think deeply about some very particular things.
– #1, ruining your public reputation
These are great thoughts!
One outlet for the “express his or her opinion about anything and everything” can be satisfied through offline journaling and/or essay writing. Each week I like to write something—either an essay, personal reflection, or prose snippet that captures some of my thoughts for the week. It saves time to write a post-reflection, instead of pouncing on every “new and profound idea” we come up with. Additionally, it is a healthy habit that assists development of writing skills, self-awareness, and chronicles your development. The only downside is lack of feedback—but this could be solved through sharing writings with a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor.
Some suggested digital methods are using a “distraction free” writing app like Byword (http://bywordapp.com) or iAWriter (http://www.iawriter.com/) on OSX/iOS or Focuswriter (http://gottcode.org/focuswriter) on all other platforms, a web-based private blog like Write.app (https://writeapp.me), or other apps with ‘journal like management’ such as DayOne (http://dayoneapp.com), Evernote, or Notational Velocity (brettterpstra.com/projects/nvalt/).
This is an excellent post.
1. If someone really wants to be a scholar they will need to develop the ability to be a Hedgehog even if they are by nature foxes. Being well rounded may be a virtue but it takes becoming a genuine expert to impact your discipline. In terms of theology and the church, pastors are by definition generalists. We are therefore dependent upon scholars who are specialists. Foxes ought to consider whether they simply want to learn more in general or whether they are willing to devote the focused discipline to actually create useful scholarship that generalists can use.
2. Everyone who blogs should ask whether the time and emotional effort he or she puts into blogging is helping or hindering his or her vocation (Vocation may not be the same things as a job. A person’s vocation might be to be to appropriate Old Testament ethics for the church while his or her job may include teaching Hebrew and OT Survey courses).
3. I know that you are writing as an academic for academics, but I would like to suggest an important issue for pastors to consider when blogging: As generalists we will naturally be tempted to comment on all sorts of things that are beyond our actual expertise. Furthermore, we may alienate members of our congregation by expressing our political, economic, or social views so that it hinders our primary vocation to preach the gospel and teach people the whole counsel of God’s word. As one of my friends says on Facebook under the topic of POLITICS: “I have political views, but I keep them to myself for the sake of the gospel.”
Thank you! And thank you for these excellent, alternative ideas. I hope that the student who has found blogging to be beneficial, but who is worried about what it might do to their career goals, finds your links helpful. Great ideas.
Agreed, a Fox must be a Hedgehog in at least their main discipline, even if that isn’t there personality. In my next post I will be addressing time management. You’ve recognized the trajectory!
Good advice for pastors as well.
Guilty fox right here.
Comments are closed.