Monday, June 11, 2012

Life On the Bell Curve

Are you smart?  Most people, even the dumb ones, think they are smart. That's been my observation. The demands of an active ego require that most people think of themselves as smart. But we know this isn't true. At the very least, we know that we can't all score at the top of the bell curve. Right?

What would happen if we all decided that we were stupid? Imagine the possibilities. It might even set the stage for a great learning renaissance. So clearly, thinking that you already know everything- like so many people that I know now- does not exactly set the table for a great learning experience. More on that later.

What exactly do we mean when we use the word "smart" to describe someone? When we describe someone as smart is that situationally specific or are we saying that these people are smart all of the time?

Is Obama smart? 

If there was ever a word open to interpretation it is the descriptive word, "smart." What precisely is a smart person? Is it a person who is well schooled? Is it a person with a high IQ? Is it a person who makes tons of money? Is it a self centered person who craves success and gets it? Is it a person that is well spoken perhaps even reared with social graces? Or is it someone with street smarts or common sense?

Are the terms "smart" and "intelligent" interchangeable?

What I have discovered over the years is that the word "smart" can mean almost anything- but here is the really interesting part.

I have never specifically learned anything about a person labeled as "smart" so much as the insight I gain from the person doing the labeling. In other words- if you tell me someone is smart- what you are really telling me is what you consider to be smart. That tells me something about you and what you think smart is. You have just given me a piece of your value system.

When somebody is labeled as smart, we instantly scroll through our memory banks where we have stored data on all of the people throughout our lives which we have been told are "smart." At that very moment we conjure up some picture of what smart is and we attach it to that person  or we do not. We generally do that based on our opinion of the credibility of the person handing out the smart label.

Unfortunately, the process is horribly flawed. We assume that all people hold the same general idea, opinion, or belief of what smart is. I am not one of those people.

So let's say some liberal media type labels Obama brilliant because he can tell a few jokes and comes off like some caring, sincere guy with a Harvard degree. So the lefty attaches the term "smart" to Obama and everyone generally agrees because of a few things like a college degree or maybe because Obama has a vocabulary slightly larger or more expansive than that of a 9th grader.

Now let's say I have a different idea of what smart is. Let's suppose I believe that the math and English taught in a state university is every bit the same as the math and English taught at Harvard.

But more importantly, what if I think that someone who is "smart" possesses the ability to state goals and achieve them? What if I told you that by my standards, Obama is an idiot. Who is right? The liberal media type or some nutter in Idaho? Who has credibility? Could we both be right? Of course. We both have belief systems derived from our experiences and thus we hold opinions about what smart is.

I get nervous when people start running around labeling people as either smart or stupid because both labels are wildly simplistic and inaccurate. In America, we measure everything from penis size to  IQ. We have to measure everything in this country so that we can say that we are better than others. This is how we feel good about ourselves. If our breasts are smaller than the majority of other women- we go out and get bigger ones. We go to school for long periods of time to distance ourselves and qualify for jobs that smarter but less educated people might get. We measure intelligence and vertical jumping ability.  Everything in our world is a competition. A competition for the most money with the least amount of work. For money. For trophy wives. For fame. For power. For ego.

Or who can run the fastest 40 yard dash. We make all of this foolishness matter somehow although it really doesn't. Maybe and most likely, we all just want to win. To be the best at something. To be remembered. Like war heroes or rock stars. We have a hall of fame for everything it seems.

Or maybe we do all of this measuring and comparing so that we can make more money. Whatever the reason- I am convinced we do all of this measuring to feel good about ourselves- which is actually pretty stupid. 

Life in a way, is a sorting out process that begins with birth, ends with death and in between those two events- there is a giant competition where everything gets measured and graded. Life is nothing if not one giant bell curve where everyone cuts out some idea of who they are based on their relationship with everything else.

The smart people I know are the people who realize they don't know much. Humility is a prerequisite to learning. If you have some measure of humility, and a thirst for knowledge, you can become and remain teachable. That's been my observation. If you already think you know everything- quite honestly I view you as a dumb ass. That's just how I roll.

Think Thomas Alva Edison or Steve Jobs. See how that definition works for you.

The smartest people on my bell curve are the ones who remain willing and teachable all of their lives. The people who get shit done, not the people who talk about it ad nauseum. That's the standard I apply. So if you have some hideous track record of no accomplishment or accomplishments that were really failures- I am probably not gonna fall for your line of bullshit when you try to convince me about how smart you are. Because it doesn't really matter how smart you are if you haven't ever done anything with that vast intelligence that you allegedly possess.

That's how my bell curve works.


Fredd said...

OK, Brian: make do you make of the following historical observation - Cher (of 'Sonny and' fame) called George W. Bush stupid a few years ago.

Just my knee jerk reaction would be that Cher, a high school dropout and world famous slut, had a lot of nerve to be calling a Harvard MBA grad stupid.

But according to your definition, both would be 'smart:' They both rose to the apex of their professions, Cher in entertainment and Dubya in politics. So would this statement of Cher's about Bush being stupid the same as Stephen Hawking calling Albert Einstein stupid?

Just wondering.

Brian said...

Fredd- What a great observation. My only housecleaning item here is that GB went to Yale where he partied like a rock star and graduated near the bottom of his class.

I think you can drop out of high school and be smart. You can also be a slut and still be smart. We all know some of those. You can also be a silver spooned dipshit drinking and drugging your way through Yale. I don't think any of those items have a damn thing to do with intelligence or smarts per se.

Cher might have been quite capable of going back to school and earning a doctorate degree...but why bother? Somehow she out clawed her competition and her financial needs were met by a music career long before returning to school became mandatory.

So Cher had a prima facia talent. It needed no schooling.

There are nine types of intelligence. I possess two of them in a high degree. I am almost completely void of two. So at times I may appear very smart, while at other times I am an idiot. My intelligence is situational and depends on the subject matter.

So yes, I think it is quite possible that Cher might have been more intelligent than Bush despite the fact that he stumbled his way thru Yale. We place far too much emphasis and credibility on college educations. They may help you get a job you don't deserve but rarely do degrees make you smarter. More knowledgeable in some narrow fields.

Einstein had two extraordinary types of intelligence. He was a complete idiot in a couple of other ways. Dude couldn't spell his name right. So was he smart or not? It depends on the situation or the subject matter.

I got a friend. A stome cold 180 IQ genius. He farms potatoes and barely gets by financially each year. A Wall St guy would say that he was an idiot. My friend- is just happy farming hops and potatoes. At least he accomplishes his tasks each year unlike that alleged genius in the white house.

So yea, smart is far from a precise term that describes people accurately. It is simply an opinion which is often over applied and mis used. A moving target.

Anonymous said...

I figure I must be smart because I really don't care if I am or not...until I read this. Now I'm obsessed, paranoid and very insecure about this smart thing. You ruined my life. AE