Being smart is a good thing, as any smart person will tell you more times than you care to hear. And being really smart is like some kind of weird superpower. If you’ve ever been at the head of your class, or the smartest person in the room, or even just the subject matter expert in conversation with the uninitiated, you know what it feels like to not only have every answer but anticipate every question – it almost seems like being able to bend space, time and reality to your will.
Now, maybe you’ve never had that superpower smartness – that’s also a good thing. Because that means you may have had a chance to observe really smart people at the height of their powers, glorying in their intelligence and in love with their knowledge of the world. And you may have achieved a striking insight that is beyond the understanding of many smart people, a special insight that seems to routinely escape the most massive intellect. This insight is painfully obvious to everyone else: Smart people suck.
Intelligence is a largely genetic trait that is also substantially influenced by environment and circumstance. In this way, it’s a lot like height. So before we talk more about smart people, let’s talk about tall people for a bit. Tall people get some pretty nice prizes from winning the genetic lottery. Tall people make more money and find more attractive mates. Height provides some advantage in many sports, and is a virtual requirement for success in some. So being tall is overall a good thing.
And here’s the point: Tall people know they’re lucky. They know that they have an advantage in life that others don’t have, and they know that they did very little to secure this advantage. They also know that to maximize their advantage, they have to add their own efforts – if they want to make the team, get the job, get the girl or guy – they have to eat right, work out, study hard, take care of their skin, hair and personality.
Not so with smart people. Even though smart people are generally aware of the genetic, environmental and circumstantial contributions to their intelligence, they rarely think of these as luck. Instead, smart people tend to think they’re better than other people because they’re smart, not because they’re lucky. And smart people often think that the world owes them something merely for being smart, as opposed to being diligent, sincere or personable. Smart people think that being smart should be enough, where tall people know that being tall is just a start.
The problem with intelligence is that it does, to some extent, make up for the absence of other admirable qualities. Smart people can get the same or better results as others even when they work less, care less and cooperate less. Intelligence is a crutch. And a smart person who leans on that crutch to the detriment of other important traits can become a monstrously malformed person. Intelligence is used worst when it’s used as a crutch to escape the hard work of being human.