Could write about a few things, but The Green Study posed an interesting blog post that got me thinking, and decided rather than just replying to her post, I’d make a blog entry instead. It’s been a while since I’ve done something introspective rather than ‘What Batale Did’ post.
Essentially she wrote about intelligence and how smart people considered themselves. At the end she asked how smart her readers had felt growing up and if how that opinion changed when they got older. It was an idea that struck a chord in me.
Growing up, I was always the ‘smart’ one of the family. Both of my parents left school with little to no qualifications, while at school my brother solidly placed just below average the majority of the time. I on the other hand, would end up in the highest groups for anything that wasn’t numeracy related. My report cards said I was smart, and so long as I didn’t have to count I believed myself to be a pretty intelligent girl – the schoolwork aspect of school was never a challenge, just the social aspect. When it came to that, especially in the teens, it always felt like everyone around me had been at an assembly and were told ‘this is how you live this part of your life’ and I had missed it.
That way of thinking stuck with me strongly in secondary school, where I also got hit over the head with just how mediocre I was in the IQ section. Every class was a challenge, nothing came easily and I found even my reliable havens of English and Art being shredded by an education system I was unprepared for. Higher learning demanded study and masses of homework that my brain wasn’t designed to handle. Show me something, make me perform something and I will grasp it far quicker than reading from a book – as much as I love to read, unless the subject interests me nothing will sink in. Which made revision painfully difficult. The longer I was at the Academy, the more my scores dropped and settled comfortably in average. There were a few exceptions, and I clawed and scratched my way through all six years of secondary school to leave with acceptable B’s and C’s. Enough to get me into my university course of choice – which four years later, I graduated from with the highest marks I could have achieved.
So compared to when I was a child and took it for granted that I was smart and would go to university and get a great job, do I think I’m smart now?
The way I see intelligence, is that there are 3 obvious categories. Educational (schooling), Real Life Skills (those handy abilities such as balancing chequebooks and knowing how to turn on a washing machine) and ‘Street Smarts’ (understanding social cues and the environment around you).
All 3 are important – you can’t just look at someone’s school records and summarise how smart they are. My Dad left school with mediocre marks and never even considered university. Today he has an exceptionally well paid job, regular vacations and plans to retire in the next few years. He didn’t get that through schoolwork, but through real life experience and education. The infamous ‘street smarts’ as it were – he wasn’t going to get anywhere through formal education, so he looked elsewhere and made it happen, never forgetting the rule iron clad rule. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I would give up my degree in a heartbeat if I could have inherited his life savvyness.
My mother on the other hand, had many real life skills, but without qualifications had to work twice as hard to get half as much. In her eyes not having the marks and not going to university are what kept her from having a successful life (which was half the problem when it came to me deciding if I even wanted to go). Her Street Smarts are somewhat hit and miss depending on the situation.
And my brother? He mastered numeracy better than I did at school, but is awful with money in the real world. Yet at the same time, he went to college and has gotten further in his chosen career than I ever have. He’s made some blunders in the past, but there’s definitely a lot of Dad’s sort of skills rubbing off on him. Real Life Skills…to be fair, he was atrocious a few years ago, but harsh wake up calls have made him far better at taking care of himself. He’s comfortably average in all 3 categories.
As for me? When it comes to placing value on intelligence I am sitting at the corner table holding up my hand and begging the teacher to explain the problem just one more time. Street Smarts are something I just don’t possess – I don’t know if it comes from having an isolated childhood, an addiction to plugging music in my ears and drowning out the outside world or like books, a general lack of interest in the world around me, but it’s almost embarrassing how out of place I can be around people. I have missed obvious cues where I have made people uncomfortable – there have been novels worth of innuendo and reading-between-the-lines that have gone completely over my head, not realising what’s happened until several hours later, if at all.
There’s also my guilty secret when it comes to people themselves. I have no capacity for putting names to faces. Working at a supermarket part time was a delight since everyone wore nametags – I always had an out when I needed to find someone. After 3 years in my office, being asked to take a letter to another department results in a rush of fear and adrenaline. Everyone else in the office knows each other by name and face, but I can name the amount I can do that with on just less than 2 hands. Whenever possible, I have merely slipped into the mail room and placed the letter in its department slot rather than walk over to the department and try to figure out who I should be seeking. I have even gone over to one person to congratulate them on retirement only to discover I had the wrong woman entirely!
Real Life Skills? I learned them far easier than my brother, but many I have gone out of my way to avoid. The day where I have to buy a house and actually juggle paying the bills fills me with a form of dread – so far I’ve managed to stay in flats where I just give over a lump sum and it’s taken care of. Actually handling real life things like finances and taxes is something I spend a good chunk of time trying to avoid. But I can at least cook and clean and wash clothes – and have, very painfully, taught myself how to sew because I wanted to. It’s taken years but my work has become passable through little more than practice and experience.
Education. On paper yes, but ask me anything I learned in those years upon years of learning I’ll struggle to remember anything. Little scraps of knowledge flittered away over the years have left my mind wanting when it comes to cold hard facts.
So, by my own definition, I am not smart. By my own definition, I might even consider myself a little dumb.
But more importantly, does this bother me?
So I’m not the smartest person in the room. Alright I make ridiculously stupid mistakes and have done some pretty stupid things to cover them up. I watch shows aimed at my target audience and hear people around me burst into tears of laughter from jokes I just don’t get. And I may never really understand people as a whole outside of my own little bubble.
But I don’t care. Not as much as I did when I was little, and knowing everything was the only way you were ever going to be anyone. Maybe it’s not a healthy way to look at the world – I have had many a strange and/or sympathetic look from members of society when it becomes clear I honestly can’t say whose running for prime minister or how a NI number works, and I wish I could actually put names to faces without having a panic attack when asked to do a simple delivery. But that’s not how my mind works, and until it is given a reason to care, it will continue to wander in obliviousness. I’m smart enough not to care that I’m not smart – which I think is smart enough.