“I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Previously I used to believe: If you are intelligent, you are intelligent forever. No one can take it from you. It is an inherent, internal quality. By inherent, I don’t mean genetic. I just mean it’s inherently in you. So, when people are dumb, well, they’re just dumb and you can’t help it.
And yes, I used to sincerely believe this. (I was invincible and awesome!)
Of course, it’s a false notion. I’ve come to realize that intelligence and more so, knowledge is not stagnant. It is always vibrating, growing and moving forward at the same time. Intelligence is not completely an internal quality. It is not that if you’ve been foolish and dumb, you can never be smart. I’ve seen people who I’ve revered as ‘intelligent’ indulging in self-pity when things go wrong; and I’ve seen ‘dumb’ people rise up to the occasion.
Dumbledore says it best:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
So what these supposedly intelligent people do wrong is that they tend to be idealistic to the point of delusion. I add that phrase only because, I believe, it is important to have ideals in life and to ache for them. Idealism becomes delusional when you expect it to happen just because that’s how it should be.
Moreover, supposedly intelligent people also stop learning new things that challenge their current knowledge. Their self-esteem is based on the past. It happens because at some level, one is satisfied or blindly egoistic or plain lazy.
So the exact opposite is what you do to be intelligent:
1. Be realistic
Intelligence then becomes a matter of choice. You first choose whether you know something or not. If not, you accept that you don’t know. Then you choose to act on the decision, to work to know more or not. Ignorance becomes the “blind spot” in the Johari window of things, which one must constantly aspire to reduce.
When you think of it, the things we believe we are bad at are the ones we’ve never wanted to do in the first place. There is a mental block even before one begins to learn about it. Imagine, the beauty and horror of the fact that at every junction in life we tend to make such default choices based on our implicit attitudes about what we are good at and not.
I am not saying that we are born with equal abilities. There is always something one has a natural aptitude for. But it doesn’t mean that we shut out everything else with the excuse that we are “naturally” bad at it.
Don’t choose to be dumb, is all I am saying.
“My parents were intellectually unremarkable, possessing no obvious genetic advantages. Perhaps I decided to be intelligent rather than otherwise? Perhaps we all make such decisions, though that seems a callous doctrine.”
2. Have a sense of self-esteem that’s not based on the past.
So you know if you were smart in school/college, doesn’t mean you’re going to be a smart adult. You can’t afford to lie back on past laurels. Whatever one does, it is important at the moment. When the moment is gone, the importance is gone. In your resume, if you quote all school achievements (including co-curricular), what good is it when you’ve done nothing for the years following that. The harsh truth is: You were that person, you are not now.
3. Never stop learning.
There is so much to learn other than what’s prescribed in a syllabus. To always keep learning requires a strong resolve backed with hard work. You need to be a sincere student all your life, and a teacher now and then.
You must’ve noticed I keep comparing everything with school. That’s because what triggered this blog-post was my class reunion (which was fun, btw!). I got a chance to speak to both “types”: the bright over-achievers and the lords of the last bench; and that is when I realized my definition of intelligence is totally screwed-up. So is the measurement of it- academic excellence. The last-bench lords were still into the same ol’ bad habits and recklessness, but it is worth mentioning that they finance it themselves now. 😛 They’ve been realistic, accepting that they do not thrive in the oh-so-respected academic environments. They are completing their graduation and simultaneously doing either some short course on interesting, practical stuff or earning work-experience. On the other hand, some bright students are in an identity crisis with no courage to resolve it, depressed or coping up with subjects they’d rather not be studying and the pressure to perform consistently all the while. Sigh.
I am yet to see how it pans out for all of us in the future. But I’ve learnt one thing, success or failure does not mean at all that one is secured/doomed for life. You’re secured/doomed for the moment. If doomed, then you just get up and move on, man.
Intelligence is not now and forever. You work for it consistently.
Getting the rust off my brain,
“An intellectual? Yes. And never deny it. An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. I like this, because I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched. “Can they be brought together?” This is a practical question. We must get down to it. “I despise intelligence” really means: “I cannot bear my doubts.”
― Albert Camus
PS: Even though I have discredited my initial belief, I still feel invincible and awesome.