I love this and, yes, I can read it. In fact, I didn’t even have to think about it.
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
— Stephen Hawking
There are lots of little ‘intelligence’ or ‘genius’ tests around; my favourite is a fact I heard somewhere years ago: if you can read upside-down, it’s a sign of intelligence. I like that fact because I CAN read upside-down, very efficiently and fluently as it happens.
But does this necessarily mean I am intelligent?
It’s a good party trick, and very useful when I am wandering around the classroom checking out student work, but it’s probably more of a freak skill than a sign of intelligence.
Then again, by being able to read words that are not presented in the ‘normal’ way, I am demonstrating my ability to adapt to change. According to Stephen Hawking, that is a marker for intelligence. I’ll take that!
According to various dictionaries, intelligence is:
♦ the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills
♦ the capacity for learning, reasoning and understanding
♦ the ability to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria
Intelligence is, apparently, measurable and we all know it is determined by tests.
But should it be? And should we use it as a defining label?
I’m not going to argue about the psychological definition of intelligence or how it is determined, because I don’t know enough about it, but what I do know is this: intelligence, or the perception of intelligence, should also be objective. Intelligence is NOT all-encompassing; very few people could lay claim to being ‘intelligent’ with regards to everything life throws at them.
Intelligence is a weapon wielded by teachers, parents, peers, society … and the individual. People are defined, from a very early age, according to their intelligence — their perceived ability to learn and apply knowledge and skills. It starts at school, where children are very aware of the hierarchy — grades, seating arrangements, spelling/maths groups, reading levels, merit awards — and continues thereon throughout life.
The other thing I know is that being labelled ‘intelligent’ can bring upon you all manner of pressure and unreasonable expectations. Everyone fails at some point, and it’s distressing and frustrating; but the fallout for an ‘intelligent person’ who fails can be far worse. The ‘unintelligent’ label is unpleasant and detrimental, but not necessarily a life sentence, while the ‘intelligent’ label does not guarantee success; I know a number of ‘unintelligent’ people who went on to do great things, and a host of ‘intelligent’ people who struggled in adulthood.
Labelling has to take a considerable portion of the blame. Being ‘labelled’ as the intelligent student, the straight A student, the D student, the naughty kid, the special needs kid … it all leads to expectations and often becomes a prison we cannot easily escape.
‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and it should apply to intelligence as well.
Wouldn’t it be an awesome world to live in if we stopped labelling and expecting, and instead saw the inner beauty and intelligence of everyone we met … and applied the same standards to our own self judgement.