Friday, June 24, 2011

That Thing We Don't Talk About (Part I)

No...Not the s-thing. Because sometimes we do talk about that.

The i-thing.

Earlier, I riffed on the topic of physical appearance & author photos.

We hardly ever talk about that in writing circles, yet social psychology is clear that appearance matters...that people draw initial conclusions about others (usually false ones) based on the Hottie Scale.

But there's another taboo topic....maybe even worse:


Intelligence is a trait that lurks behind everything we do...everything we are...silently running in the background. If our unique set of personality dimensions represents the "software" of life, intelligence is the "operating system."

And like personality, intelligence plays a pivotal role in our choices, our preferences, our actions and behaviors.

We just never acknowledge it. When was the last time you participated in a discussion about writing or reading where intelligence was invoked to help explain our individual differences?

I thought so.  Why is that? Here's my list of three reasons, for starters:

1) The average person takes intelligence for granted.  One reason we don't talk about it is that we don't think about it. Like personality, unless you consciously decide to study its meaning in your life, you don't realize how widespread the implications are.

2) Intelligence gets a bad rap.  Stereotypes...warranted or not...attach to notions of intelligence. When you think of highly intelligent people, do you think of "arrogant?"  "Argumentative?"  "Cold?"  Intelligence brings with it some baggage that can make it an unwelcome visitor.

3) We can't readily change what we're gifted with.  And that contributes mightily to the "awkwardness" factor.

Modern American society ranks the value of people according to four standards:  Power (status/accomplishment); Beauty; Wealth; Intelligence.

Of these four, Intelligence is the least susceptible to change (with perhaps Beauty taking second place).

If we had a proven way to create significant gains in personal intelligence, it would spark an industry to rival our current obsession with physical appearance (books, videos, cosmetics, fitness equipment & programs, surgery, etc).

But we don't.

You can change you wealth. You can change your power/status. And, to a lesser extent, you can change your physical appearance.  Intelligence, not so much.

Here's the recipe for a taboo:

1) Place a societal value on high intelligence.

2) Recognize the hard truth that some have more of this trait than others.

3) Tell those in the "have not" category that there's nothing they can do to alter that fact.

Sound like a volatile situation?  In our egalitarian, "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" culture, it's not something we like to hear.

Over the coming weeks, we'll talk about this thing we don't talk it relates to reading, and writing, and life.

What's your take? Are there other reasons why Intelligence is such a hot-button topic?


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