How Intelligent are You?

When I was young, I had a friend who was a genius.  I remember riding my bicycle up to his garage around the sixth grade. He was in the process of putting his father’s lawnmower engine back together after having taken it apart. I don’t mean apart like a spark plug and a metal shroud. I mean down to the piston and small internal parts.

By 7th grade he was “chopping” bicycle frames and doing custom paint jobs on them. By eighth grade he was modifying engines for go-karts and mini bikes. After that it was cars and motorcycles. Rebuilding and modifying engines, welding, custom paint.

His Christmas and birthday wishes were from the Sears Craftsman catalogue…arc welder, metric socket set, compressor. I remember him proudly showing me his new torque wrench.

What did this extraordinary talent lead to? In demand race car mechanic? Custom car builder? Jay Leno’s on call mechanic? Well, no. He got into drugs and alcohol, and drove his car off a cliff.

The reasons for this were probably several, however, having been there and seen it, I’m convinced of one thing that contributed to it. The relentless D’s and F’s in high school. I remember the anxiety and frustration on his face when report cards came. I’m sure his lack of being gifted athletically in PE, and being called a “motor head” by the jocks and “cool guys” didn’t help either. God forbid that a gift like his should get any recognition at Newport Harbor High.

Who can thrive in this world with no positive re-enforcement to their self-esteem? How many times can you be told “you suck” before you believe it and follow the path of self-medication to escape this “loser” who everyone says you are?

Our standard education system measures and rewards verbal-linguistic and Logical-mathematical skills (with emphasis on memorization) as what it considers intelligence. And if you are a really, really gifted athlete, who can provide prestige to the school’s sports program, then you will get some love there.

So, if you are a person who has natural talents and abilities that lie outside the systems parameters, you are not acknowledged for them and are forced to try and excel at your weaknesses. This is the exact opposite of what should be happening.

The Nine Types of Intelligence

In his 1983 book Howard Gardener proposed a model of multiple types of intelligence as opposed to the standard idea of intelligence dominated by a single general ability. He had a specific criterion to determine if a particular ability qualified as a type of intelligence. He started with seven different types, and the list has since been expanded to nine. They are:

  • Naturalist (nature smart) In the past Hunters and gatherers, now farmers botanists, environmental experts.
  • Musical (ability to discern pitch, rhythm, tone, timing etc.) Composers, conductors, musicians etc.
  • Logical-Math (we all know about that)
  • Existential (an innate understanding/capacity to grasp questions of existence)
  • Interpersonal (ability to understand and interact well with others) Teachers, therapists, and even actors, politicians, and sales people.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic (Use a variety of physical skills and abilities) Athletes, dancers, surgeons, craftspeople etc.
  • Linguistic The most widely shared type of human intelligence (At the highest levels the use of words and language to express complex meanings and ideas to others.) Writers, speakers, poets, etc.
  • Intra-personal (To understand one’s thoughts, feelings, and the human condition.) Psychologists, spiritual leaders, and philosophers.
  • Spatial (picture smart) Ability to think in 3 dimensions, spatial reasoning, graphic and art skills.) Painters, sculptors, sailors, pilots, architects.

This does not mean that we are born with only one of these types of intelligence. We all possess varying degrees of several or most of them. Most people, however do excel naturally and with less effort in one or two.

So, what is the point of all this, and what does it have to do with my childhood friend? If you were designing a civilization, would you want it populated entirely by people who were good at math and words? Would you only reward those people and screw everyone else? Of course not. Who will fly your planes, and design your buildings, and fix your car, and give you therapy when you skilled mathematical thinking brain is flipping out?

Naturally, we don’t treat our pilots, actors, musicians, and psychologists as second class citizens. But the truth is many of them had to be born into families which, for whatever reason, recognized and nurtured their talents. Either that or they had to have the wherewithal to figure it out at a young enough age and have the courage and commitment to say “sorry, this is who I am, and I’m going for it.”

The other obstacle that arises is that while there tends to be a prescribed “path” for those pursuing the status quo educational vocations, as in business, media, accounting, science, etc., many other natural talents require a more creative or “entrepreneurial” approach to success. Not always an easy way to go.

So, where does that leave you, me, and our children? For me, and maybe you, it is a little late. I know so much more now about the vocations that would have served my temperament better than the paths I stumbled through from necessity or default.

If you are living and thriving doing something that you were “born to do”, awesome! You are indeed fortunate. If not, perhaps you can find satisfaction in your true gifts in your hobbies or in a secondary or even primary source of income.

As for the kids, try to find their innate special types of intelligence. If it fits the public school paradigm, great. If not, do what you can to provide the avenues for them to develop their talents. This doesn’t mean forget school and grades. However, it does mean, perhaps putting school and grades into a different context. Maybe play the school and grades as a process of developing a work ethic and developing social skills that will serve them in life, as opposed to making it all about the grade.

Here is the bottom line and the takeaway of value. If someone’s natural abilities and talents don’t conform to the classic model of intelligence, in school, they are under pressure to become more proficient at something for which they are not naturally gifted. They try to “improve their weaknesses”. As I stated at the beginning of this, that is the opposite of what someone should be doing to achieve their full potential.

The path to great success and happiness comes, not from trying to gain skill and fit into something that has little meaning or relevance to us and does not come naturally.  It comes from us developing and perfecting our natural abilities, and delegating to others, the things that are their skills and gifts.

 This model of people identifying, perfecting and excelling at their natural talents is not a novel concept. In many indigenous cultures throughout time this has been the norm.

This does not mean that in this imaginary world everyone would be good at, or successful at what they do. Unfortunately, the hard work of developing, perfecting, practicing, and marketing these skills still remains.

This hard work, and dedication to perfecting one’s natural gifts must still be done, and some can’t do it. Maybe too lazy. Maybe to depressed. Maybe to beaten down. What are the options when this is the case? Maybe, try to identify the problem, and delegate the help we need to someone who’s natural skill is helping people with those types of problems.

Imagine that! A world full of people finding satisfaction with their vocation, with amazing competence, sharing their talents and gifts with each other. Everyone respecting and grateful for each other’s contribution to the collective.

And there is the word…” Respect”. Our culture loves to assign levels of value to different positions. It’s all just that lame ass ego in action. Like somehow the big CEO in the big house is more relevant than the plumber. Screw that! Cuz when his toilet is overflowing in his big house, he needs the plumber a whole lot more than the plumber needs him.

The more our society can find connection in each other’s value, and not look for petty reasons to discriminate based on skill set, income, possessions, or titles, the better off we will be.

If you are living and finding happiness in your passion and gifts, you are so fortunate! Encourage, wish for, and respect that, not only in all people, but in all living things.

Peace and blessings..


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