This post is a rough analysis of intelligence as a key insecurity that many of us have. I had analysed this for myself by myself first, but I wanted to share because doing so felt very therapeutic and eye-opening.
Some of it is in short-form, like a stream of consciousness of ideas to do with intelligence and how we see it in our Western culture.
I hope you find something from this, too…
Defining Intelligence (considerations)
- Formal education comparison:
Degree educated versus not – are people who have a certificate of higher education better in terms of intelligence than someone without?
• Degree educated versus a doctorate – What about two highly educated peoples, but one has taken their formal education further?
• What you study in terms of social perceptions – And does what a person chooses to study change your view on their intellect? A doctorate in Literature versus one in Biomedical Science, for example? As a society, we have an idea of what is an impressive subject to know a lot about, and what isn’t.
• Is formal education all about knowledge, though? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. As with knowledge and intelligence, you can lead a person to facts and figures, but you can’t make them think deeply or newly about that thing. That, in my experience, can’t be externally taught.
Language and speech comparison:
- Where you’re from affects how you speak and your beliefs, your morals, your vocabulary.
- Who you spend more of your time with will inform how you speak.
- How you speak has a correlation with intelligence; as in, you are less intelligent if you speak fast and slurred, use slang or curse words, limited vocabulary range and speak loudly. More intelligent if you use the Queen’s English, articulate yourself clearly, have a wide range of vocabulary, annunciate, use lesser-known words, and rarely curse or use colloquial language.
- As someone from Birmingham, from an immigrant family, and a poorer neighbourhood, I did always feel set up to fail and never be seen as intelligent. I hate hearing my voice in recordings, and I wish I spoke more like a Londoner or Oxford posh.
What you enjoy and intelligence:
• Different hobbies are put on a pedestal, too, as worthy or interesting or even, yes, intellectual.
• Reading, writing, self-study = impressive, intellectual hobbies, but what about a person who enjoys football or video games? Typically, not as much.
• Creative types are sometimes not seen as intellectuals, either. They’re more airy-fairy types.
But as Einstein says, “Creativity is intelligence having fun!”
These ideas of what is a worthy hobby and what isn’t takes away from the purpose of a hobby anyway: to have fun! Hobbies are a part of leisure, recreation, entertainment and self-exploration. They’re not supposed to be all that serious, it’s a way of being a balanced, well-rounded individual.
If one person lets off steam through video games and another through reading, that’s personality and preference, not intelligence.
Our perception and beliefs shape what we deem to be intelligent/a form of intelligence in ourselves and others.
In our society, intelligence isn’t:
- Getting the answers wrong
- The majority of the population
- Vocations and creative outlets
- Reading fiction or mainstream genre books
- Lacking confidence in one’s abilities
In our society, intelligence is:
- Getting the best grades
- Going to a reputable school
- Studying a reputable subject
- Studying, studious, hard-working personalities
- Reading classics, non-fiction, and educational texts
- The minority/ standing out above the rest
- Confidence in one’s abilities
- In-depth knowledge
- Good at tests and quizzes
- Being right
- Making the right decisions
It’s none of that…it’s how you think; your ability to think
In a nutshell, intelligence is how you think. Your ability to think deeply, creatively, and widely. Intelligence is problem-solving, creation, innovation, insight, wisdom, perspectives, consideration, analysis, reasoning, common-sense, awareness and so much more.
Above all else, it is learning…
Difference between knowledge, intellect and wisdom
Knowledge = knowing things, facts and figures
Intelligence = is thinking deeply
Wisdom = is more spiritual, an awareness, insight, and depth that is profound and enlightening
Many people can be taught things and retain that information; memory. They therefore have knowledge of that thing; information, facts, figures to recite. But intelligence is something beyond that. Yes, you should know things, of course, but can you take it further? Can you analyse what you know? Utilise what you know? Question what you know? Can you think critically for yourself without reciting the thoughts and feelings of others before you? Can you come to creative and innovative conclusions?
Knowledge is defined as, “facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”
“awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.”
Define intelligence as, “intelligence has been defined in many ways: the capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.”
“Ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”
“the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations”
- Mental capacity
- Skilled use of reason
Critical and creative thinking
So, intellect is the use of your mental faculties. To be able to apply what you know, not just recite and know it! This means taking in information and analysing it in your mind. Seeing what it could mean critically as well as creatively. Using judgement, reasoning, emotion, awareness, skills, knowledge, experience, creativity, logic, and problem-solving mindsets all when needed to come to conclusions and solutions – of your own making, therefore it isn’t “right” or “wrong” as we know it.
All intelligent people, truly intelligent people, are open-minded. You can’t learn and analyse and come to real effective conclusions or creative innovative ideas without openness. To be willing to see the bigger picture, other perspectives, and consider the possibility that what you thought was right, was actually wrong (or is subjective or relative and therefore the simple answer of right or wrong is suddenly not so simple).
This is why gaining our intellectual values from formal education is harmful to us. In formal education, we are not rewarded for being wrong. In real life, we are. When we are wrong, we have the opportunity to learn new things. Yes, in a classroom we can do that, but that’s very hard in a setting where they are trying to teach you and praise you for being right all the time; getting the best grades is ultimately the goal.
To cultivate intelligence, we need to always have an open mind and heart. To have an awareness of the world and the people in it and how it’s not a matter of right and wrong, but usually a spectrum, a middle ground, a grey area of what can be true all at once.
Learning and thirst for knowledge
Knowledge and intelligence are not synonymous, as I’ve pointed out. Instead, intelligent people aim to gain a wide range of knowledge to use and apply in life. What does this mean? It means learning…always.
Intelligent people know there is no endgame. No end goal in mind where that’s it, you know everything. Instead, they want to learn because it feels good. They take opportunities to learn at every avenue.
You were wrong in a discussion? Great, don’t get defensive or bitter or ashamed; instead, ask for more information. Seek to be educated. Someone has another point of view? Great, entertain it, ask more, allow them space to share. You don’t have to agree in order to be mature and open and learn from other perspectives. New documentary? Let’s watch! Interesting book? Let’s read. A friend heard something interesting? Great, let them share! Curious about something? Research it!
With self-awareness, we realise that in life, we are always learning. We should always be learning.
It’s about a Growth Mindset, not a Fixed one. That’s intelligence.
A mark of a truly intelligent person is their maturity. Not to say that children can’t be intelligent, of course, I mean intellectual maturity. Good judgement, responsibility, sound reason, emotional awareness and emotional intelligence (emotional management, too), and understanding of the self.
You don’t need to be perfect to be intelligent, as I’ve hopefully highlighted, but you do need a level of self-awareness. To see why you perhaps did what you did, in retrospect. That you understand an emotion when it crops up, even if you don’t always handle it well or know where it came from right away.
Intelligent people are natural self-developers. Not in the trendy way of today’s world, but in terms of wanting to know themselves better, heal, communicate better, know and learn and grow. They don’t seek some perfect ideal self that is complete; they embrace the journey of always being a worthy unfinished project with self-compassion as their key tool.
Intelligent people make mistakes intellectually and in everyday life. They self-sabotage and hate and react poorly. But what they don’t do, is blame the external world for that. They have the maturity to take responsibility with self-love and learn from that experience and aim to do better in the future.
Intelligent people will act well with others, too. Not because they are perfect social creatures, but because emotional intelligence means understanding the depths of another’s emotions and needs, too.
Intelligence is adaptability and freedom to consider all possibilities with maturity; again, a Growth Mindset.
Types of intelligence:
In 1983 an American developmental psychologist Howard Gardener described 9 types of intelligence :
- Naturalist (nature smart)
- Musical (sound smart)
- Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
- Existential (life smart)
- Interpersonal (people smart)
- Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
- Linguistic (word smart)
- Intra-personal (self smart)
- Spatial (picture smart)
Mantra for better intelligence beliefs, values and metrics:
“I value learning and growth in intelligence. Openness and self-awareness are the true marks of intelligence, not any societal metrics like good grades or how many books I’ve read or what I choose to study.
Being wrong does not threaten my intelligence, instead provides the opportunity to gain more knowledge and perspectives. There are different expressions of intelligence, and as long as I play to my strengths, learn more in ages where I am weak, and seek to further my knowledge with curiosity and enjoyment, I am an intelligent person.
No one else threatens my intelligence. No one and nothing can take it away from me. It is no external thing. It is not determined by society or old agreements. I know I am intelligent, and I’m intelligent enough to recognise when I’m not acting intellectually.”
There you have it, my analysis of intelligence in order to remind myself that actually, I’ve very intelligent indeed!