Up until a certain point in my life, I’d never really considered myself intelligent. Not even very talented. I remained a blank slate (and innocent) regarding the fact that people were different from me. I knew people could be “idiots,” but I never thought them “dumb.” They were just “mean” people. But then something changed.

As I racked up more years, and with them more cognizance of my actions and the ability to self-reflect, I realized there were inherent differences between people and we couldn’t be grouped into one big blob called humanity. It took a lot of thinking to realize that, though–as common sense as it may be.

And yet…

I’d say it’s not so common. We as a species lump people together quite often.

Everyone is different, and yet only a true few are exceptional according to society’s standards. I know I’m not special. Though it did take a lot of convincing on my part to understand that I’m no genius, no art maven, and not even worthy of living up to the Mother Theresa archetype.

I’m nobody.

So I have to ask: who do you think you are? Are you a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect? Or are you merely wallowing in your own ignorance, whether willfully or due to circumstance?

I always wonder these things about myself, so I figure it’s okay if I turn my watchful eye on other people. People can be wrathful when you confront them about their own shortcomings. Correcting people isn’t exactly wrong, but people plain don’t like it.

And, as with most other groups, people who are any different from the next get lumped. In my experience, it can go one of two ways: the quirky, off-beat person is either made into the party pony (never the full monty) or he’s ridiculed for his nonconformity. Of course, I speak of the kind, gentle people. Not the cruel ones.

I don’t consider myself intelligent even though I often receive this comment from people. It’s sort of an off-hand remark that people give their friends or colleagues, isn’t it? It’s a placeholder. It’s meant as an innocent compliment to be forgotten later, but which most people tend not to. I know I don’t put stock into these phrases, but many people take them to heart and it turns into their entire self-worth.

I used to do some of the same, but now I’m much more confident. And it’s not because of the insecure version (“Oh, I don’t need to be smart, because intelligence doesn’t matter!”). It comes more from a deep respect for myself and others, the world–a respect that says, “We all know our strengths and limitations. Let’s get the job done, right here… right now.” No one is punished for their weaknesses. No one gets pettily jealous over another’s strengths.

Of course… I’m just dreaming. Sometimes I’d rather lay in bed, adding on film strip to force continuation of an alternate reality where anything can happen if I will it. I have the ability to control my actions in my dreams sometimes, and I feel like that is a true prize whether it’s a mental exercise or in waking life (the latter of which is probably more priceless, though the issue is debatable).

And yeah, there’s some wisdom in saying, “Intelligence shouldn’t factor into decisions.” But it’s not allowing yourself to admit that skills and abilities do play a part in everyday life, because what you do every day depends on what you can do. Someone can have a severe lack of life skills, but savant-like brainpower. What then? Knowledge and aptitude are not binary.

The title of this blog post is a little misleading. All humans are smart enough to fool themselves, albeit in different ways. The ones with a propensity for abstract thinking simultaneously feel like the worst and the best people to grace this planet, violently swinging from depressive episodes to visions of grand achievement, all with perhaps not having any mental illnesses, learning disabilities, or any “difficulty” with thinking at all.

Then there’s the rest, who maybe think abstractly for a purpose and not for fun. They’re the everyman, the usual people. And there’s nothing wrong with them. But the abstract thinkers can’t debate them well, because the two groups’ interests are different.

Rest assured, you’re smart enough for the everyday goings-on. Or else you wouldn’t be here. But you could be smarter. I could be smarter. We all could use a bit of a spring cleaning in our brains regularly.

Unfortunately, most people don’t do that and settle for the easy route. Even the so-called “brains of the operation” don’t engage in sweeping up the parlor all that often, it seems. So you’re not alone, but don’t let the camaraderie of group-think and a cluttered mind stop you from going off onto the beaten path toward enlightenment.

Maybe then you’ll need a bit of a scrubbing, but your most valuable assets (your mind and soul) will remain dirt-free.

Featured image by Kevin Turcios.

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