Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, talks with Dana Gioia about thinking imaginatively and the importance of civility.
“The humanities are about depth,” said Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, at an Institute Washington Ideas Roundtable Series event supported by Michelle Smith and the Robert H. Smith Family Foundation. “In a world that is muscular, this is sometimes underestimated.” In a conversation with the Institute’s Harman-Eisner Program in the Arts Director Dana Gioia, Leach talked about the need to put a greater cultural emphasis on “what makes a people a people and what differentiates people.” “We are all a mosaic of subcultures,” he said, and the humanities—language, culture, philosophy, history—teach us all “how to think imaginatively.”
Indeed, one of Leach’s primary initiatives at the NEH is to “try to get people to think more positively about each other.” “Americans don’t pay enough attention to civil discourse,” he said. “Argumentation is a social good, but how you argue is a civil concern.” Leach noted that today’s political environment is rife with incivility and an “element of anti-intellectualism.” He mused that perhaps we should look to sports for a lesson in good behavior. In sports, athletes train hard, play hard, and they respect the competition. That’s not happening in politics. “Can we bring politics up to sports?” Leach wondered.