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About Being Smart – Whatever That Is
Joanne Sales – July 2009

At our kitchen table recently, a young woman from Korea asked two 20-year-old German twins, “Which one of you is smarter?” It was an awkward question, so I quickly put in my two cents in defense of both twins - and the rest of us.
“There is more than one kind of smart.”

Comparative intelligence is a dangerous pastime, especially with our human tendency to think in extremes. Dictionary.com lists many synonyms but only one antonym for the word smart - STUPID.

We have a habit of thinking that if we are not “the smartest” then we are its opposite - stupid. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

There are so many ways to be smart - “quick and prompt in action or intelligence, clever and effective.” There’s practical smart and street smart. Common sense and social smarts. The ability to see underlying patterns, connect extremes, make peace. There is fix it smart, creative smart, emotional smart and a wise heart. Physical coordination and spatial intelligence. Handy hands and the creators of beauty. Intuition.

The smarts that make things happen, make people happy, and make things work. The smarts to know how to spend your time, care for your health, raise your kids. These are forms of intelligence. We don’t get graded on them, yet they design our lives.

Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” "The only real valuable thing is intuition." He found that insights came from within more often than from words circling in his brain.

Academic smarts leans heavily on knowing, but creative thinking benefits from not knowing - a willingness to let things be out of order for a while, an abandonment of the familiar. Creativity calls us to shut up and listen. Listen to what?

Our Western ancestors welcomed the Muses, as they were the bringers of inspiration. In India, Saraswati is the Goddess of creativity, music, art, knowledge and wisdom. These invisible inner forces are called on both for the academic smarts to pass an exam or the creative smarts to write a song.

Arlo Guthrie performed in July at the Vancouver Island Musicfest. His father was Woody Guthrie, a folk music and cultural icon, the writer of “This Land is Your Land” Arlo said writing songs is like fishing. You sit and wait, and when a song swims by, if you’re smart, you’ll catch it and write it down. Arlo said the problem was that Bob Dylan caught all the big songs. Guthrie complained, “Don’t you think he should have thrown some of the small ones back in?”
Again, comparative intelligence is a dangerous pastime.

As kids, we all took aptitude tests. A classmate, Melvin B. got a score of “5” in mechanical aptitude. 5 out of a possible 100! At the age of 12, I was no genius in statistics, but I was smart enough to see that something extraordinary was going on. How did Melvin do it? It had to take a unique kind of brilliance to be able to answer 95 out of a 100 questions WRONG. With such a distorted sense of space, how did Melvin maneuver down the staircase and open his locker? After that day, I looked at Melvin in awe. I doubt that his parents felt the same way.
Oh, the extremes of duality.

Going back a few years, Adam was walking around the Garden of Eden, and God said, go out and label everything. Give it a name. Adam takes on the task, and now we have a world broken up into billions of pieces, all with names. Mouse, mosquito, dark, light, pretty, peony, nurse, neurosis.

Those labels are useful tools, but they have also created the nightmare of duality. He’s black, she’s white. Christian, Muslim, Jew. Good cop, bad cop. Us and them. Smart and stupid.

Somewhere along the line, you and I get born, and we too crawl out into creation, labeling everything just like Adam. “Mommy, daddy, cat, dog, backhoe, babysitter.”

School ends, and we keep marching around for decades accumulating more names. But at some point, the distinctions, differences and names become less important. Then we begin the long march back through the labels (forgetting many), retracing our steps, bringing everything back into the oneness from which it came. That would be the wisdom of the elders, were we to allow and honor it. An intelligence of unity, reunion, interconnectedness.

When were we smarter? When we are young and the master of differences, or when we are older, with the experience of decades and the vision of unity?

Don’t answer! It’s another unanswerable question - just like “Which is the smarter twin?” We may as well ask, “Which is the better fruit - an apple or an orange?” Well, it depends, both are good, for whom, for what and when?

Sometimes we make stupid choices, sometimes we’re slow getting on our feet. But we’re smart. The potential is there.

We’ll end with another Einstein quote: “It’s not that I’m smarter than everyone, I just work on problems longer.”