What is smart?
I am fortunate to work at a really great place. I said ‘great’, not perfect. Where I work, ‘smart’ sometimes seems to be defined in the terms of a parrot. How much can you recite back from what you have heard (read)? The better you can articulate it, the smarter people say you are. It doesn’t really matter if what you are articulating so beautifully is actually useful. In fact, given the choice between someone who slobbers out nothing but words of pure wisdom, insightful perspectives, and creative solutions and another person who proposes nothing but idiotic solutions in a poetic rhythm with clear diction while also using multi-syllable words and catchphrases, my crowd will probably choose the ‘pretty’ talker.
My crowd is the result of many years of training within a system that measures people. My crowd gets measured early and often. My crowd knows who “measures up” and who doesn’t, often by their first year in formal education. My crowd often appears arrogant when speaking about others, even those within their own crowd, but especially about those who don’t have membership in the “in crowd.” It is kind of perplexing because my crowd often considers themselves enlightened with an undying passion for social justice.
The fact is my crowd cornered the market on ‘smart’ by choosing what defines the word ‘smart’. Being smart is everything they are good at doing especially along the educational philosophy of “Polly, wanna cracker?” Being ‘dumb’ is all the other stuff.
It would be awful enough if this problem just ended with defining intelligence, but it doesn’t. The definition thieves in other “in crowds” have defined what is pretty, sexy and artistic. They have defined what is desirable in clothes, cars and houses. And, they all have a measuring stick. They measure success. They measure religious behaviors. They measure our babies the moment they are born. They use standardized testing. They use panels of experts to measure applicants. They measure college application letters. They measure the speed with which one can type on a keyboard – a keyboard that was designed to slow the typist down so that the typewriter keys wouldn’t get jammed. They measure your aptitude, desires, and traits. They even measure your strengths and happiness.
What is smart? I think it is the ability to solve complex problems with unique and creative strategies. I know many people who have solved incredibly complicated problems – problems that often involve intense emotional issues. I know people who have solved the problem of being economically disadvantaged. They have solved problems of keeping their family together in a neighborhood that tries to steal their child’s childhood. They figure out how to get their children to after-school art and sport programs while not being able to personally leave their jobs. They contemplate how to put food on the table everyday while working for low wages. They solve the problems of rent, utility bills, healthcare and new school clothes. They think hard about how to care for their aging parents with few resources available to them. They organize their communities, churches, synagogues, and mosques to serve the greater good. They think strategically on how to effectively oppose institutionalized acts of racism and all other forms of hatred. Yet, most of these people are not considered particularly smart by the “in-crowd.”
Why, oh why, do we let the definition thieves do this to us? Probably because they talk pretty. I don’t measure up when it comes to talking pretty and let me prove it right now. The “in crowd” can take their measuring sticks and shove it up their asses. That wasn’t pretty, I know. Sorry for the slobber too.