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
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
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