Sunday, September 04, 2005
So why is intelligence over-rated? Well, to start with, let me acknowledge some of the cool things about being smart . . . for starters, intelligence means you are never out of work, unless you want to be, and you can be fantastically successful at your job, especially if you are like me and chronically underemployed. Come to think of it, my whole intelligent family is underemployed . . . .
If intelligence is nicely spread out among several different areas (as outlined by Howard Gardner), then it has the benefit of making a guy all-around interesting, able to converse at length on many different topics, able to build a deck, tune a motorcycle, and promote teamwork and harmony among his co-workers. Intelligence also tends to minimize fear, as most fear arises from the unknown and the unknown is just a book waiting to be read when no subject is considered unknowable. I'm serious, that's the kind of parents I had growing up - it didn't matter what the project was, it only took the right book and a free weekend and they were happily making stained glass, or making jewelry, or building a harpsichord, or making lampshades, or learning about the Egyptian Pyramids, or identifying new bird species. My brother built the gorgeous house he lives in, my sister just got done remodeling a house she bought as a repo, my Dad is sharp as ever and is limited only by the physical as to what project he tackles. I have my own bag of tricks I've accumulated over the years with a dab of welding, engine rebuilding, carpentry, EMT training, electrical, and an odd assortment of arcane knowledge accumulated from a couple hundred college credits in the areas of anthropology, chemical engineering, life science and teaching culminating in a sort of intellectual arrogance that I could build a fighter plane from scratch if I just had the right book and a free weekend . . . .
So what's not to love about intelligence? Well this is my view (and just my view, open to debate):
- Intelligence can take some of the spontaneity out of life. When you can see and calculate the ramifications of what an action will have on one's self and those around you, five years down the road, then you are less able to just do something out of the sheer joy of it, without thinking. "Just doing something without thinking" actually becomes a bit of an impossibility, and over-analysis becomes not just a danger but a way of life.
- Intelligence means you expect the world to be fair, and are amazed and hurt when that is not the case. How can people not see the other side of what they are doing? This applies to the world in general, and to small daily interactions with loved ones.
- Intelligence means you are almost always a bit disappointed in one's place in the world. After all, if I'm so smart then why am I underemployed? It also hurts when an employer exploits the talent but does not reward the accomplishment. My brother is amazing at what he does each day but does not engage in the requisite brown-nosing to advance. My sister is equally amazing and I want to cry at what she brings home with her Masters degree.
- Intelligence in my experience results in a thin skin - like a sponge I absorb, store and analyze what does on around me, but a sponge has very little protection from harm from the environment. I believe what people tell me, and hurt deeply when they lie. Surely there are arrogant insensitive intelligent people out there, but I don't know how they do that, I only know my own world and the tie I feel that binds intelligence and sensitivity. For me, the floodgates I open to the world in my thirst for knowledge is the same pathway that hurt enters my life.
These are just a few downsides to intelligence - I'll add more as time goes on. As I strive towards my apex I will still be working towards improving my intelligence - but it will definitely be more in the areas of mastering the guitar or building a canoe than improving my vocabulary or re-visiting calculus.
Intelligence is something which I question daily while working with disabled individuals. I have this one child who most would consider a vegetable but I see as a teacher of love, patience and understanding.
Often, I see individuals, including myself who waste hours, days, or even years doing nothing to benefit others or even ourselves.
So, what is intelligence? Does it have a purpose?