What is Smart?

EinsteinLet’s put a poisonous, human-potential-stifling myth to rest. Contrary to the IQ fundamentalist view… that intelligence is biologically-determined and fixed over time… all reputable research shows that intelligence is adaptable and expandable with the right kind of effort and experience. In other words, if you use your brain the right way and expose your brain to the right stuff, you get smarter.

The you-either-have-it-or-you-don’t school views intelligence in very narrow terms (with a bias towards analytical skills that are measured using things such as an IQ test) and ignores (or rejects) the crucially important fact that human beings have something called agency.

Agency means that we can, if we so choose, play an active part in the learning process… by seeking knowledge, evaluating knowledge, constructing knowledge, and applying knowledge. Analytical skills are important, but so are many other assets (do I dare to call them talents?)… such as honesty, curiosity, imagination, creativity, conviction, perseverance, passion, empathy, resilience, and devotion, to name but a few.

In this broader view, the most authentic measure of intelligence is the degree to which one is successful at living a meaningful life.

Successfully intelligent people are causes, not merely products. They recognize their strengths and weaknesses and use flexible strategies to achieve their dreams given the uniquely blessed and burdened context of their own lives. As such, there is no single definition of “success” and therefore no single way to define or measure “smart”.

In summary, intelligence is not some fixed, measurable quantity. Intelligence is an eminently human process in search of meaning… a process of interacting with and influencing one’s world in service to one’s authentic dreams. Intelligence, in the most profound sense, is an attitude toward this mysterious opportunity called life. It ain’t all about how “smart” your brain is; it’s about what you choose to do with the brain you’ve got.