Unfortunately, too many intellectually gifted individuals have been criticized for being arrogant. Using one’s intelligence to the point that those around him feel inferior or less-than is often considered an act of arrogance. And it also assumes the gifted individual intentionally wanted to make those around him feel inferior. Yet, businesses desire, recruit and hire intelligent, high-performing employees over less-able workers. Quite an dilemma.
When this same scenario happens to gifted children in the classroom—when they are teased in school for their high scores— they are often referred to as nerds or show-offs although schools strive for children to be high-achieving students with high test scores. Quite a hypocrisy.
It is like we are saying, “Do your best, but do not do your best if it makes someone else feel less-than.” Or, “Be all you can be, reach your full potential, but keep it on the down-low so those around you don’t complain or call you names or shun you.”
Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.
Are gifted individuals really arrogant? Do gifted children really show-off their intelligence?
These are two questions I’ve given a great deal of thought to. When I take into consideration all of the gifted people I know—family, friends, students I’ve taught—I don’t see the arrogance or the intent to show-off. I only see an individual thinking, working and operating on his own intellectual level, a level which is his normal.
Let me explain.
A child is intellectually gifted because he was born with a talented brain that develops, learns and operates at advanced levels of intelligence and reasoning well beyond his chronological age. This is much like a child who was born with a gifted voice who can belt out a complex song, one that we would only see adults perform. Or it is similar to a basketball phenom who begins his professional basketball career right out of high school. In all three cases, when one of these gifted individuals uses their talent, their inborn giftedness, whether it be thinking, singing or playing basketball, they are all three operating at their own level of ability, a level that is normal for them, but higher than the rest of us.
Personally, I can’t even dribble a basketball, and I can’t sing worth a solfeggio! I’m fine with that.
Yet, when a basketball prodigy plays basketball, does society scramble to voice their distaste for his public display of showing off his ability? Nope, not likely.
When we all rush to download the trending song from the unbelievably talented voice of a 9 year old, do we hear a mass of objections saying this child is just showing off and that she is just being arrogant to think she can sing so well? Not at all.
When a brilliant businessman develops an unbelievably creative solution which is the perfect answer to a complex problem which was crippling his company, do his co-workers envy his creative skills and spurn him, or does his boss feel threatened by his extraordinary ability to problem-solve and then tries to undermine his employee’s success? Yup, this happens all the time.
It’s called workplace bullying and gifted individuals are proven to be the most likely victims of this type of bullying.
When a gifted child with a reading level several grade levels ahead of her age-mates reads chapter books while her classmates are only reading easy-reader picture books, is she thought to be showing off? Often times, she is.
And then her classmates tease her for her advanced reading skills, and parents of her classmates complain because their own children feel bad in comparison to the gifted child.
What is at the heart of these dichotomies, these double-standards? Why are we fine when others excel beyond our own capabilities in music, art or athletics? Why are we not envious or resentful enough to cry out that this is elitism, or request that the person excelling suppress herself because she is making the rest of us feel bad about ourselves?
The answer may be anti-intellectualism. Many believe our society strongly adheres to anti-intellectualism, and some people are simply envious and then act on their envy.
The truth is, gifted individuals think and operate on their own advanced-level of cognitive ability which is perfectly normal for them. In order to be purposely arrogant, or to intentionally show off, intellectually gifted people would need to know or be aware of the intelligence and ability levels of those around him—they would need to know that the people around them have less ability or intelligence than they do. Once they surmise the levels and deem them lower than their own, only then could they show off or act arrogantly. For someone to show off or be purposely be arrogant, there has to be lower-ability people around him who then feel less-than and then complain. I get that, but…
Would we then ask a gifted 1st grader to first judge the intellectual levels of his classmates, and then dumb down his own intellectual ability so he won’t hurt his classmates feelings, or be called a show-off? Would we expect a gifted businessman to underperform and hold back on much-needed creative solutions so that his less-capable boss doesn’t feel threatened, or to prevent his co-workers from criticizing him for being arrogant?
Just as soon as we expect that basketball phenom to purposely miss some slam dunks so the rest of his teammates do not feel ashamed, and then we also ask the gifted young vocalist to sing off key once in awhile so her friends don’t feel bad about themselves.
What do you think?
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