Sunday, 1 May 2016

I'm the smartest, I'm the dumbest.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how intelligent I am and comparing it to those around me. I'm not sure that this is a good instinct, but it is mine. It is one of my primary motivators and as such I have taken some time to get to know it. In all things and at all times I want to be smart and to be sure that other people know that I am. I believe many people have similar such drivers, an example would be the person who was told many times how good they look when they were growing up. They may have many other valuable qualities and traits, but as a result of that original praise they will spend a lot of their time thinking about (and judging themselves) on how they look and how others think they look.

Realising this fact has been valuable for me. It means I can convince myself to pursue things further than I otherwise would because they will be evidence of my intellect. It also means that if I feel down about a failed task I can much more easily predict what it is precisely about that task that is making me feel down. I am a great believer that achieving great things requires fully understanding ones own motivations and turning them towards the task. In the case of my wanting to write, I have, through this blog, managed to convince myself that I am adding depth and cleverness to my writing by recording and expanding my thoughts*.

However in valuing an area such as this, there is an inherent danger, that I will begin to judge others around me based on what I perceive as their intelligence and begin to feel superior. My tendency is to say that such feelings of superiority are almost always unhelpful at best and destructive at worst. There are so many collaborations, friendships and good ideas which I missed out on when I was younger and more arrogant. I think there are some interesting arguments to be made along the lines of no person being smarter than any other, or at least that they are smarter in different and equally useful ways**, but that is not what I am writing about today. I wanted though to briefly mention a technique which I use to attempt to keep my own intellectual superiorities and inferiorities in check.

I call this game 'I'm the smartest, I'm the dumbest'. In it I attempt to convince myself (normally during a long meeting or conversation) that I am either the smartest or the dumbest person in the room by a decently large margin. There are times when simply finding that going in one direction or the other is easier will tell me a lot about my own confidence level. The real value of the game though comes from the effort of imagination required to move significantly in either direction. This tells me about some of the dumber things which the more classically intelligent people in the room are doing and it lets me notice and elaborate on the insights of the supposedly less intelligent. I am forced to work to put myself into other people's shoes, to either see how cleverly they might be outwitting me, or to allow myself to believe that I am out thinking them to the point that they are like a child to me. Just the evidence of that work demonstrates very ably how far I (and everyone in the room) am from being a masterful genius or a complete buffoon. It has also allowed me to think with more clarity about the different types of intelligence and smarts which exist beyond those which we might ordinarily expect.

Right, so there are lots of advantages of my thought exercise and I learn a lot, but I am sure that it has not slipped past all of you how this entire thing is simply another way of really truly proving to myself just how smart I am. After all if I can find ways to think my way around what everyone in the room is doing then I must be really very clever. The reality is that I believe that while, in the moment, I feel excessively pleased with myself, in the long term I think that it has helped me to better consider other people and to realise that how many types of intelligence there are.

* [ This is almost certainly not the case, or at least not the whole story. But just the fact that I can tell myself this helps me to bash out an extra thousand or so words every week that otherwise wouldn't happen.]
** [ My favourite analogy is to compare different types of intelligence to different artistic masters. You might think that Rembrant is the best, but almost certainly you can find it in yourself to realise that the world is also better off for having a Caravaggio in it as well.]

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