My Smarts Aren’t Your Smarts

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Intelligence serves a functional purpose in our everyday lives and how we use our intelligence as a function in our world determines how people view us as individuals. Ultimately, it’s what guides people to make value judgments about who we are as people. If someone is funnier than me then they’re comedically smarter than I am. If a person is better at explaining a viewpoint or making people see both sides of an issue then they have better communication intelligence than I have or at least that’s how it should work on paper. In reality, I may be able to communicate my view better on paper than you can through words. Who’s smarter then? It is in this situation that everything becomes a value judgment. Which do you value more: a smarter speaker or a smarter writer?

We make judgments on intelligence every day. We judge intellectual intelligence, social intelligence and emotional intelligence. Think about the kids who played by themselves during recess in grade school. They were plenty smart, at least intellectually speaking, but they had difficulty making friends because their social intelligence was on a different wavelength than everyone elses. The world likes balance and we reward people as a society for fitting in and being normal. There’s a line from Bret Easton-Ellis’s classic American Psycho where Patrick Bateman explains to Eleanor the reasoning behind his behavior in one sentence: “because I need to fit in.” The reasoning behind Bateman’s “need” is duplicitous of course because he secretly wants to be murdering people, but his reasoning is the same in his fictional world as it is in his real world and that is that society places a higher social value on how you appear than it does on how you actually are. This is why men drive Porsches, this is why women buy jewelry and it’s why everyone you know has some dark secret that you’ll never know because they’re too terrified of being judged for it that they’ll never be able to trust anyone enough to tell them about it. That’s how deep our social intelligence runs.

Intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence are the two most divisive forms of intelligence we have. When they work together they make for great human beings. Bill Gates has amazing intellectual and emotional intelligence. The man has made billions of dollars and donates billions to charities. You know that person who is ten times smarter than you yet always seems to have time for you to pick their brain? That’s someone with high intellectual and emotional intelligence. The problem with having high intellectual intelligence is that you can judge some as being more worthy of your attention than others. The problem with having high emotional intelligence is not knowing how to make value judgments as to how your intelligence can be used in the best way. You have too many feelings in other words with emotional intelligence and often times those with high intellectual intelligence don’t have enough feelings.

We tend to make judgments based on different values based on the different root intelligence systems that we have. If I’m smarter than the average person I’m going to calculate the value of explaining my viewpoint to someone who is not as smart as I am. It’s a utilitarian exercise that we have for deciding whether someone is worth teaching or not. Teachers do this all the time, they have to otherwise the entire student body would suffer because of the low intellectual intelligence of a handful of students. Some teachers care too much about those handful of students and drag an entire course out trying to reach those students. They may very well reach those students, but at what cost? It’s a value judgment. The teacher has to decide who their resources can most benefit. This is why we have tutors for those who have difficulty in class. The problem is of course that the factors involved in social and emotional intelligence often stop those who really need help from ever receiving it. They’re not smart enough to realize that they need to swallow their pride if they want to succeed and this is perhaps the saddest realization of all. If you don’t have the brains to figure out that you need to go somewhere you won’t wind up going anywhere at all.

We all know that we are going to have to do something to earn a living in life. For many of us however the list of things that we won’t do far outweighs the list of things we’d be willing to do in order to earn a paycheck. This is how we find ourselves in a situation where we have high underemployment and low employment among high-skill laborers. The pool of people that want to become engineers is low in America because it requires students to take on a high amount of debt, hours more of coursework than their peers and forces them to spend more time away from their families. In other words, our jobs crisis in America boils down to intelligence sacrifices that no one wants to make. We may be able to sacrifice social intelligence if it gives us emotional intelligence and intellectual intelligence. That is what I have done for the last ten years. I’ve placed a higher value on professional and intellectual advancement as well as personal and emotional development than I have on social development.

The reason I made this choice was rather straightforward. I have an ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’m affected by what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Some have suggested that it would be best to focus on developing my social intelligence because it is what I have the biggest problem with. That’s a terrible argument and as Peter Drucker explains here it’s what a lot of companies do with their employees. Rather than work on improving the skills that make their employees unique and good at their job they waste resources trying to improve the things that they are absolutely terrible at despite the knowledge that it will require far more time and resources to improve something that someone is terrible at than it is to improve someone’s ability to do something they are very good at. When we ignore the obvious argument as so many companies do we do a disservice to everyone involved. We should work towards playing to our strengths not ironing out our weakness and nowhere is this more apparent than when we are looking to improve our skills in matters of basic intelligence. It may seem relatively simple to you, but remember that everyone has their own unique skill set and under the right circumstances nearly everyone can be of some value to you in some shape or form.

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