Fat Louis - March 2 2014
An Odd Thought
Being a genius is hard. Not that many of us know this. Not first-hand anyway. But according to books, movies, and TV genius is a curse. Or at least those characters described as ‘genius’ treat it that way, railing against a world that ‘doesn’t understand’ or bemoaning the various hardships of being ‘smarter than everyone else’. Geniuses are usually portrayed by the mass media as rebels and misanthropes, mean-spirited pranksters, socially awkward nerds, or aloof super-beings.
Unfortunately the truth is much less dramatic. Most geniuses are normal. Living normal lives and doing normal jobs they are not all socially maladjusted loners dividing their time between trying to get a date (like TV’s Big Bang Theory jokes) and plotting world domination from remote mountain lairs (as portrayed in a thousand bad adventure serials). In fact, other than the scores on their IQ tests, you’d be hard pressed to recognize a genius.
And, historically, IQ (or Intelligence Quotient) tests are a terrible way of measuring genius. (Einstein famously ‘tested’ poorly, but his genius is undeniable.) These tests are meant to test specific things like reasoning and mathematics. But genius comes in unending variety. Few of which can be quantified (how do you measure intuition or creativity?).
The thing about being a genius is it doesn’t necessarily mean much. Not like most people think anyway. Sure some things come a little easier to geniuses, but even an average person can achieve great things. Hard work and dedication count more than we’d like to admit.
Mensa (the exclusive association of smart people where admission requires an IQ of 150+) has its share of deadbeats. Neither intelligence nor genius guarantee success. We all have anecdotal evidence of this: the smart friend stuck in a dead-end job, that cousin who tested well but dropped out of college and never got their life together, or that uncle who signed on with the railroad at sixteen and never took a college course in his life but who somehow knows more than most professors. Success requires talent, hard work, and focus. Geniuses have the first gifted to them at birth, but the rest? That’s where many fall off the proverbial rails.
Wasted genius is one of life’s greatest sorrows. How many young men and women died during WW1 and WW2 before ever learning of their potential let alone fulfilling it. Genius snuffed out too soon artists, musicians, inventors, and doctors. Others never find an outlet. What good musical genius to the six-year old Somali girl too poor to eat regular meals? Or the potential poet buried deep in the heart of the fifty-eight year old coal miner labouring away in Kentucky? Does he ever have a chance to stretch his genius when he’s been raised to disdain literature as unmanly?
And then there’s the pressure. Those geniuses identified at a young age are expected to ‘do great things.’ Every achievement will be measured against history’s greatest minds, making them feel inadequate all their life. Many geniuses are their own worst enemies demanding perfection from themselves and otherwise holding to impossible standards.
Few of us have ever been ‘the smartest person in the room’ unless we’re alone … and sometimes not even then. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t genius at something. Every person has some sort of talent. Finding that talent, nurturing it, and sharing it with the world that’s what makes a genius, not some test score. Believe in your genius.