I heard the term genius a lot when I was a kid.
As a straight A+ kid who never had to study or try very hard, it was inevitable that teachers and parents mention the word. Gifted came up on occasion. I still get smart on a pretty regular basis. I’m aware that’s what people generally think.
I’m not bragging. I promise. Pinky swear.
I mean, I don’t think I’m stupid. But I’m so far from “genius”, it’s embarrassing. I see other people out there creating and doing things with their lives, the one I’ve largely pissed away and I know, know, I’m a fucking idiot in comparison.
Plus, all the book smarts in the world don’t mean a goddamned thing when you don’t understand how the world works around you, or how to read people. It doesn’t matter when you’re disenchanted with every institution with which you come into contact. It doesn’t matter if you’re completely isolated due to not being able to get out of your own head (or your head out of your own ass) long enough to recognize that real wisdom comes in recognizing you don’t know anywhere near what you thought you did.
Personally, I think all that talk of latent intellectual talent made me think it was all just going to come as naturally as it did when I was younger. And when it didn’t, I didn’t know how to deal with that. I didn’t understand that we are all incomplete and that all progress, all growth, comes from taking the time and putting in the effort. Not everything would be instantaneously understood.
Humility is the key to real genius.
These days, if I use the world genius, I steal the notion from Dick Richards, who posits that genius is simply the part of you that determines how you best interact with and contribute to the world.
(Yes, Dick Dicks, ha ha.)
I have friends who jump in head first whenever anyone needs a shoulder to cry on. I have others who always lead the way when it comes to building things or repairing what’s broken.
I have others who have a keen eye for nature or the visual arts or music. And that’s just the how of their genius. The actual genius might be compassion or connecting emotionally or an incorrigible desire to fix things.
Some people want to heal. Others to build. Others yet to inspire.
I like the idea that genius isn’t some score on a test or some rare condition that only one in a million has. Over and over, I was told how smart, how special, how “above” others I was intellectually, and the assumption was that I would be a giant success at whatever I did.
Instead, I internalized that into thinking I was special and didn’t have to try and became a great disappointment, to myself and I’m sure, others. And because I didn’t learn that I needed to learn until much later in life, I spent years thinking I knew it all, or enough, or that I could instantly grasp anything if I needed to.
Of course, I’m not a dullard. I wouldn’t be the type to vote for Doug Ford because of buck-a-beer. I’m smart enough to realize that was a bullshit political ploy and that the rest of his platform was the same regressive right wing garbage metastasizing like cancer throughout western civilization.
I can pick up on patterns pretty easily. I spent enough of the last ten years reminding myself I need to work harder, to practice learning, to be able to circumvent that childhood tendency toward know-it-all (sometimes). I’ve at least learned to keep my mouth partially shut when I slip (I think).
Of course, the other issue is that my genius seems to involve immersing myself into worlds. I can’t read a book series without having to read it all, to explore all the aspects of this creation. The same goes for TV and movies and comic books. DC and Marvel are the bane of my existence at times, when I get sucked down the rabbit hole of some major character (or worse, some obscure one).
But all this desire to explore worlds doesn’t just stop at exploring them. I have to open them up. I can’t even count the number of secondary characters I’d love to read more about, because I can envision all kinds of alternate scenarios. Perspective, oddly enough, is an obsession I didn’t even know I had, until I turned it on myself.
It’s the best tool I’ve got and the worst weapon. This compulsion to play devil’s advocate and look at what is, and say, “here’s another way to look at it” has both ruined my life and potentially proved it saviour.
I rejected every institution because I saw the inefficiencies, the politics, the intentional system bias and dogma that ensured masters and slaves, and said, that’s not for me. I need something more. I need something different, some other way to go.
Some other world to open.
Instead of learning and getting a higher education, I sneered at edifices designed not to teach us how to think independently, but how to do it like everyone else. Instead of taking what was useful and ignoring or discarding the other stuff, I rejected it all.
And I ended up in tech support. Where I am still, though I wouldn’t say it hasn’t been without some successes.
Turning that bullshit detector/perspective alterer/world opener on myself has been a blessing. In realizing how little I know and accepting that, with the knowledge that I have to work to get better, and to defer to others with greater experience in order to learn from them, I’ve come around to a totally different perspective. I’ve gotten very comfortable with “I don’t know, but I can theorize, explore and find out.”
Maybe everybody does that at this age (or earlier, probably in some cases), but I see enough people walking around oblivious to their own lack of growth to know that that’s probably not the case. I’m sure it is for some. Maybe even most. Maybe most don’t.
Maybe it’s just that 30% that just can’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that Donald Trump is not a good person and should never have been president that never get this far.
I don’t know. Perspective.
The other thing I’ve been called more often than not is quiet. That used to be because I was afraid to speak and prove I wasn’t as smart as I claimed. Now, I know I’m not and I’m just trying to listen.
I like immersing myself in worlds. I like offering or exploring perspective because it makes me think harder about who I am and the world around me. I offer perspective to others because I see them making the same mistakes I did – myopic assumptions of truths about themselves and the world around them that are often so much more complex, and so much less insidious than they imagine.
I like the word immersion because it feels like I’m getting right inside of the thing, whatever it is, and really becoming a part of its essence. It also reminds me that we can drown when we are immersed, and I must at times, come up for air.
At least I’m smart enough to do that.