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Archive for the ‘smart’ Category

Because if I had to reject everyone whose brain thinks and communicates in ways that are different than mine and which are hard for me to understand, I’d miss out on gems like this post from Ancient Hebrew Poetry, “Why I am Not an Atheist”. The whole post is brilliant, and I hope you’ll go there to read it. But, since I find through blog stats that few links are consistently clicked onto, let me highlight this one small selection:

I see a rising tide of evil, and hope against hope in God’s superabounding grace. I see baseless fears everywhere: they just have new names. I see an abundance of racism, and especially classism, wherever I look. It is simply put to more ‘refined’ uses. I see no more wisdom in the current arrangement of roles and time management as it is distributed along gender lines, than was true in the past.

Oh, yes, it is wonderful to hear someone presenting reality as reality, side by side with the hope of God’s superabounding grace, without trying to reconcile things by diluting or denying either how bad things still are in spite of all of our progress or how superabounding the grace of God is. The reality John points out here makes me think and puts words to things I see and feel.

My point, though, is not primarily how much I liked this particular post, as much as it is what I’d be missing out on if I wrote John off as a “hopeless intellectual” just because he often writes about things my brain can’t begin to comprehend in ways that are quite complex.

I subscribe, via Bloglines, to Ancient Hebrew Poetry. Perhaps 80 percent of what I read there goes over my head. I can imagine some of my friends looking at me and asking, “Why bother?” Well, partly it is because the part I do get enriches my life so much. But, another part of it is that I enjoy getting to know and hear about life through John’s eyes and mind. I enjoy having friends, even blogging friends, who make life so interesting because they are so different from me.

If I see a brilliant intellectual, and let that aspect of the person’s personality be all I see, and if I write off that person because of what I don’t understand when they speak, I will have missed that person as a whole person, who is intellectual, but not only “An Intellectual”. I also will have missed the opportunity for my life to be enriched, for my faith to be challenged, for my heart to understand things from perspectives I’d never have arrived at myself.

Aristotle’s Feminist Subject is another blog I follow, but do not often understand. I’m glad I stumbled on the blog and hung around, because I’ve met another nice and interesting (and I mean both of those words as compliments, in spite of how they are often twisted, semantically, to mean other things) person in J.K. Gayle and gleaned so much of value from the small percentage that I do understand of what he writes. It was on that blog that I was introduced to a biography, Same Kind of Different As Me, which has impacted my life and thinking profoundly. It’s the only book I can think of that I found myself weeping after I finished reading. It shook up many of my presuppositions about life, about class, about change, about how God works.

Sometimes I’m intimidated by highly intellectual people. Okay, I usually and almost always am. But I don’t want that intimidation to get in the way of connection with people. The conversations I’ve had with both John and J.K., while only a small part of my whole life, are ones that I am so glad I didn’t miss out on. I treasure these connections and online friendships. And I find that once I get to know the person behind the intellect, the intimidation either goes away or at least becomes not so big of a deal.

And while I say that my life has been enriched by the things I do understand that John and J. K. write, it’s not nearly as utilitarian as it sounds. Mainly I’ve really enjoyed getting to know, however remotely, two interesting people whose amazing intellects happen to be just one part of what makes them interesting and nice people.

Connection in the body of Christ is supposed to cross over barriers. If you can run intellectual and academic circles around me, and I use that as a reason to disdain you, then I’m telling you I can only connect to you if you stop thinking and talking the way God made your brain to work. To me, that is sad and would be a great loss all around.

What do you think? Is there a difference in disdaining people because the way they think is complicated as opposed to any other reason that we disdain people who are different from us? Is it okay to disdain an intellectual, but terrible to disdain someone who is mentally retarded? I see that as highly inconsistent. I would daresay we deceive ourselves if we think it’s acceptable to disdain someone who has more of something than we do–whether it be money, intellect, popularity, etc.–but appalling to disdain someone who has less of the same thing than we do.

If I think I can disdain or write off someone who has “more,” then I have to wonder if my “acceptance” of someone with “less” is really acceptance or merely patronizing? Lately I’ve been thinking that “patronizing” is just the dolled up, socially acceptable version of disdain.

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I ended up at this post by Spiritual Tramp in a very round about way. The author made me smile when he talked about another site and said that it “makes me wish I were geekier than I am.” It also reminded me that I have had my scores from the Nerd Test sitting in draft for a while now.

The analysis of my nerdiness came back as:

“Not nerdy, but definitely not hip.”

60% scored higher (more nerdy),
1% scored the same, and
39% scored lower (less nerdy).

I guess  nerdiness dilutes the hip factor more than I would have imagined. I mean, 60 percent of the people taking the test scored higher than me, and that doesn’t make me a little bit hip? Why didn’t they say, “You are MORE hip than you are nerdy?” instead of emphasizing that I am definitely NOT hip?

I can see how these results fit with my personality. I don’t like to stand out. I don’t really have any desire to be popular or “in”. In all honesty, I really don’t want to be like “everybody else”.  But at the same time, I don’t like being so different as to actually be noticed or stand out. 

I was also thinking that while I don’t want to be an obvious nerd or a geek for the sole reason that I don’t want to stand out, I’m always delighted when I have a few  people who others label as geeks or nerds among my close friends. These are the friends who don’t tell me I think too much. These friends give me lots of cool things to think about from a variety of interesting perspectives.  I like variety and I’m glad my friends are scattered all across the spectrum (any spectrum/whatever spectrum).

As a sort of highly educated redneck, country bumpkin, I think I do feel most self conscious around people who might be labeled hip. Even so, I’m grateful for the more “with it” friends I’ve had as well, who haven’t  looked down at me, just because I’m NOT (with it).

Distinctions like this can be fun when they help us describe what is, and maybe even help us laugh about those realities and different takes on life.  I can’t stand a focus on distincions, though, when it is prescriptive or isolating, for example, when there is either an air of intellectual superiority or anti-intellectual superiority about a person and that is used to place a wide gulf between any two people.

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Or: “Internal Angst and Severe Naval Gazing” 🙂

That last post was incredibly hard to write. It’s not gotten any easier for me now that it is posted. Here are the voices that haunt me when I read back through it, and the arguments I keep repeating back to those voices:

Why are you calling yourself smart for all the world to see? (I’m not calling myself smart. I’m wanting to talk about how hard it is for me to know how to interact with and face and sometimes talk about whatever it is about me that some people call “smart”)

When people read this, they’re going to think about all the really smart people they know and that will make them them about all the reasons you’re NOT so smart, and then you are going to look really presumptuous (that’s one of the real rubs I’m afraid of) by even talking about this whole “smart” dilemma. (Trust me, I’m aware of how not so smart I can be. But, I also know that I feel very lonely and misunderstood at times because of how I’m different from other people, and often that difference seems to keep coming back to what other people call “smart”)

Smart is such a relative thing. For everybody but two people in the world, there is somebody who is smarter and somebody who is less smart. (Yes, I know. I know. I know. I hate the word. I hate the relativity. I hate the assumptions that go with it. But I still need to talk about whatever this thing is that makes me feel isolated from people on either end of a spectrum that I wish wasn’t even a spectrum. I mean, I’m glad there are people who think more AND who think less than me. I’m glad there are people who do some things better than me, and some things that I do better. I don’t like thinking about it from those comparative terms, but I don’t know how else to come to grips with what it all means for relationship than to think about it at least a little bit from this angle.)

It’s so arrogant to talk about yourself and “smart” in the same sentence. (Yes, that’s part of what I’m afraid of and why it is easier for me to talk about other heavy stuff, but I’ve kept running from the five letter “s” word. I don’t like talking about war and peace, but I ventured into that dialogue for a little bit. I don’t particularly like to get caught up in the homeschooling vs. public schooling debate, but I stepped out and stuck my foot in my mouth on that one recently. As hard as those talks are for me to enter into, I’m even more afraid of talking about being smart. Primarily BECAUSE I feel like it sounds arrogant. So, I can’t argue too much with you…I mean me… if you/I say I’m being arrogant. I don’t think I’m being arrogant. At least I hope I’m not. But I am afraid that I sound arrogant just by talking about what it means when other people call me smart. I’m taking the risk, because it’s so hard to have something that seems to somehow be a part of me be “untouchable” and undiscussable.)

You’re going to drive people nuts with all this rambling on and on about being smart. (I know. That’s another thing I’m really afraid of. But, I need to talk about it and try to sort it out. And I want to do it in a venue where maybe a few other people can help me sort it out. I’ll take the risk of driving people nuts. And I’m going to try really hard to trust that even if I do drive some people nuts with how I think, they might continue to like me anyway. Because that’s one of the core questions: If I’m different, if I think weird (too much, too little, too rationally, too illogically), can you, will you still be my friend and like talking with me? Is where I fall on the scales of smart/making sense/confusing a dealbreaker to relationship? I hope not. Will you ignore me and write me off, except when it is beneficial to you, because of how I think and express myself?)

I wrote someone an email recently about these kinds of things. In that email I said, “I often get looks and words from people that communicate, ‘You’re not making sense.’ And I’m having to learn to trust that not making sense to people doesn’t mean they don’t like me or don’t want to bother listening to me or getting to know me anyway. I’ve too often felt like I’ve been pushed away because my thinking is too strange or confusing to other people. Now I’m realizing that those don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

The person I had written to responded and asked if I would write a post about that as it resonated with him as well. I’m trying to do that here, but because it is all so intensely personal and confusing to me, and I’m still trying to find my own way through it, it may take a while. What I hope is that, even if I’m driving you nuts with how I ramble through the topic, you won’t write me off or mock how I think.

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I want to write a few posts about a topic that is personal and hard for me to talk about. It is an area that I often feel misunderstood. As such, I have little confidence that I am even going to make sense with what I write. I don’t even know where I’m going to go with it, or how I’m going to end up. I’m not sure if the post itself will connect to the title. The title is what is on my heart. Getting there may be long and confusing. I need to talk about this. I need to try to communicate it. Please bear with me if I don’t make sense. Or to put it in the words of an alternate post title I thought of, “I’m Smart, Please Like Me Anyway.”

Let me start off this post with a disclaimer and some background presuppositions. I’m going to be talking about a word I don’t really care for: Smart. I dislike this term, because: [update: It’s still me talking in the list–I can’t figure out how to indent in this template without WordPress automatically inserting the big quote mark]

1.It can mean way too many things. If you call me smart, what do you really mean? With this particular label, I find that what one person means when they use the word can be very different from what another person thinks when they hear it.

2.It can mean too few things. I operate mostly out of a paradigm of “multiple intelligences”.  When people call me smart, it frustrates me, in part, because I feel like they’ve artificially elevated one type of intelligence. Usually, I think people are talking about something to do with academics. They seem to be saying,  You know things I don’t know. You remember things way better than I do. You think about things in ways I can’t even think to think about. You use big words. Those things relate to only one type of smart. But, when you call me smart, sometimes it feels like by your acknowledging whatever it is that you see as smart in that moment, you are from that point on, expecting me to be forever smart in every way. Which leads to my next point:

3.It is loaded with assumptions. I hate being called smart, not because I can’t receive a compliment (which is what many people assume when I don’t know how to respond to being told I’m smart), but because I’ve been burned too many times by the paradox of people who go on and on about how smart I am, until I do something that seems stupid to them, and then they ask, “What WERE you thinking?” Or, worse yet statements like, “Just Think about it.” If you call me smart, it feels like there are assumptions and expectations about how I should always behave and think, and a lot less tolerance for me to do or be “not smart” (whatever that is) at times. Some of the time, “not smart” really IS that I’m not too smart in a certain area. Some of the time, when you look at me or respond to me like I’m stupid, it seems like it is precisely because I don’t think exactly like you do that I now appear to be stupid or “not thinking”. Other times, it is hard because I’m not believed when I truly don’t understand something or can’t do something or can’t figure something out…  “But you’re so smart.”

4.It is an isolating term. Often when I hear someone call me smart, I feel like a wide gulf has just been artificially laid down between me and them. You’re smart. You’re different. I admire how smart you are, but it’s obvious we can’t really relate, because you are so far “up there” with your thoughts and ideas.

5.It is a “big” adjective. When people see smart, sometimes it seems like they can’t see beneath, behind or below that. I don’t want you to see me as smart, if, in doing so, you can’t see the whole picture of me, of which my academic brain capabilities are only a part.

6.It is an adjective that carries a lot of weight. It seems to trump other adjectives. It is often used in a ranking way. For example, when someone is telling me I am smart, it often feels like they are putting me on a pedestal, and themselves lower, in comparison. (which ties into #4)

At the same time, I can’t seem to cut the word out of my life. As an adjective, it is helpful. I have friends who I like for a variety of reasons. Or perhaps, it’s more accurate to say, I have many friends who I like. Each of them has many fascinating, interesting and likable traits. Some of those friends have as one of their characteristic what I would describe as “smart”. I don’t want to have to deny or ignore that their being smart is part of the them that I like.It’s not so much that I like them because they are smart, but that I like them, and when I think of them, “smart” is one of the adjectives I would use to describe them.

This friend wears glasses. That friend is tall. One friend is an incredible seamstress. Another is extremely shy.  And still another is, yes, smart.  I’m not exactly complimenting my tall friend, nor am I putting down my shy friend when I use those adjectives. They just are those things. They aren’t only those things (And that is a very key point to my thinking). Each adjective paints just a tiny part of a description that is never adequate to describe a particular friend.

Such adjectives are descriptive and not prescriptive. If you are my friend, you could, in talking about me to another person, honestly say, “She is tall.” You could not accurately say, “She is tall and so she plays basketball very well.” If I played basketball (I don’t–I am tall and very clumsy), and was good at it, it would be true. But as soon as the adjective “tall” becomes categorically loaded with assumptions and expectations which may or may not be true about me, it is no longer a helpful description, but becomes most unhelpful.

I suppose part of what I’m trying to work my way through to is that, although adjectives carry meaning that are loaded with implication, adjectives which describe people aren’t really rankable. Meaning I don’t like one friend better because they are smarter than the rest. And I don’t like another friend better than the rest of my friends because she is stunningly beautiful and draws attention wherever we go (I don’t have any stunningly beautiful friends, according to the world’s description of “stunning beauty,” but I imagine if I did that that friend could find the adjective “beautiful” as frustrating as I find “smart”.) By describing a friend with a specific adjective, I am saying nothing about their likability. I’m only describing the person who I happen to like very much.

Still, I want to be able to admire a trait in a friend, without it seeming like I’m ranking them. I want to be able to admire smart when I see it in a friend, and not have them feel awkward or elevated up. I have a daughter who paints beautiful pictures. When I admire her paintings, I am not saying, “I’m a terrible painter.” I really AM a terrible painter. I’m even a terrible drawer. Shoot, I can’t even color very well. But, I’m not thinking of those things, when I admire her paintings and say, “You are an amazing painter.” All I’m doing is admiring a trait and gift that SHE has. My admiration and description of what I see in her says nothing about me.

In the same way, I want to be able to admire a friend who has just said something amazing or thought about things from an incredibly profound perspective and say, “Wow, you are so smart” and have them hear the admiration and be glad because of it, but (1) know that their being smart isn’t a demand or constant expectation on which our friendship hinges and (2)it’s not the only thing I like about them, and if they got a disease that diminished their brain capacities tomorrow, I’d still like them. They are smart, but they are not only smart.

So, you can see the bind I’m in. I don’t like people using the word “smart” to describe me for the reasons above, but I find it, at times, a useful word, much like  words such as artistic, creative, intense, laid back or funny. I suppose in the previous two paragraphs, I’m trying to put into words assumptions I long for you to have, if you are going to call me “smart”.

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