Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Outsiders

I found this article today while reading, of all things, a "Flash Forward" recap on Television Without Pity. It talks about the ability of highly intelligent people to adapt socially. It's from 1987, but I think it still holds true. At least from my own observations. Then this evening, I ended up talking with a friend of mine from college and his wife about raising their four-year-old daughter. She is apparently quite bright and has started acting out in class. Their theory - she's bored in school. So now my friend's wife is trying to tap into the experiences of him and his friends to try to understand her situation and deal with it as best they can, particularly when it comes to interfacing with the school about her needs.

"The Outsiders" identifies four key adjustment problems that gifted people experience throughout their lives.

"One of the problems faced by all gifted persons is learning to focus their efforts for prolonged periods of time. Since so much comes easily to them, they may never acquire the self-discipline necessary to use their gifts to the fullest."


I find that many highly intelligent people also tend to be lazy, mainly because they can get away with it. If I can daydream in class 90% of the time and still get an "A" in class, why try harder to pay attention? The problem comes when they are faced with a challenge that actually, well, challenges them. Those who are used to being challenged by the world around them know that it may take a few tries to succeed at something, and so they keep trying until they get it. Those who are used to succeeding with little effort are perplexed and frustrated by things that do not come easily because they have been spoiled by their own brains into thinking everything should be easy, so they may give up long before finding out what they are truly capable of.

"A second adjustment problem faced by all gifted persons is [that] ... [s]o far from being one-sided in ability and interest, they are typically capable of so many different kinds of success that they may have difficulty in confining themselves to a reasonable number of enterprises. Some of them are lost to usefulness through spreading their available time and energy over such a wide array of projects that nothing can be finished or done perfectly."

I thought about this one for a while and realized that I am somewhat guilty here, too, especially in the last few years when I have been perfectly guilty of over-extending myself at times. I think that this is more often a problem for those who, faced without a challenge, seek one out... only to find twenty, all of which look interesting. These people may never stand out in a particular area, even though they may be capable of doing so, because there simply are not enough hours in the day.

"A third problem faced by the gifted is learning to suffer fools gladly...

A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests."

I grew up perfectly aware of the fact that I was not like other people, so I never expect people to see things the way that I do. I am more often surprised when they DO see things the way I do. As such, I do my best to listen to other people's ideas, if for no other reason than to give myself some insight into how they see the world. But there are plenty of people who never reach that awareness, and even those who do may still have trouble relating to "normal" people.

This blog post on "Clever Sillies", which discusses social adaptations of highly intelligent people in a slightly different manner, is perhaps most relevant to this part of "The Outsiders" article.

"The single greatest adjustment problem faced by the gifted, however, is their tendency to become isolated from the rest of humanity."

The section that starts with this sentence hit so close to home that I felt like I had an arrow in my chest. I had to wait until college to find a group of people I could converse with and relate to in a real and meaningful way. And even then, it took me a while to figure out how to be a social animal. I'm still learning.

The article then goes on to discuss how the difference in IQ between an individual and those around them can make a difference in how the individual adapts to their environment. Smart people who are surrounded by other smart people adapt socially to their environment better than smart people who are surrounded by average people. Here, though, I would refer back to the "Clever Sillies" article, which suggests that if high IQ people spend too much time around each other, their world view can become very skewed. I would prefer a mixed exposure, since that's what you get in the real world. But the key, I think, is to make sure that a smart person has enough smart people around to keep themselves intellectually stimulated and motivated to meet their potential.

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