Sunday, April 13, 2014

What it means to be smart

I know a lot of super intelligent people who are idiots.

Heck, I act like an idiot a lot of the time.

Smart -- really smart -- is an aggregate of a bunch of things:

  • Intelligence -- Aptitude to get knowledge
  • Knowledge -- To simplify, let's just say it's information
  • Wisdom -- Doing something appropriate with knowledge
  • Action -- Acting on wisdom
It  takes all of this to be "smart" -- The aptitude to get tons of information, the tons of information, the wherewithal to know when/not (and how/not) to use that information, and the compulsion do something with that great power and responsibility.

I know hyper-intelligent people who are lazy. They are not smart.

I know people with tons of information who use it in useless ways, or in abusive ways, or are just generally an ass about what they think they know. They are not smart.

I know people who have the ability to change their world at a micro or macro level, but don't have the compulsion to do anything. At all. They are not smart.

And I'm not just talking about pervasive character flaws -- I'm talking about what people like me do, off and on, throughout our lives. Heck -- throughout my day.

And then there's a flaw we all have, where we think we're smarter than we really are.

Sure, intellectually, I know there's a bunch of someones out there that are smarter than me. But if that doesn't live with me, it's just intellectual knowledge that doesn't lead to personal growth.

And I'm talking about acknowledging there are smarter people in a healthy way, not in a "I'm not worth anything", false negative sense of my worth.

I surround myself with peers and mentors that I meet with on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. We encourage and lift each other up and hold each other accountable -- which means calling each other out if we're acting arrogant, thinking too much of our gifts and talents, or otherwise behaving selfishly. Often times, that's about how smart we're being (or a false sense of intelligence, or an elitism, or a host of other character flaws or symptoms that indicate being out of whack with the reality of what it means to be smart, and to get smarter.

Here's a bit of litmus test I have (one of them; I have several) -- Do I find myself using the phrase, "Those people" in categorizing a group?

I don't mean just with race -- I mean with differing religious or political views, or people without domain expertise, or with people who say something that could be classified as "dumb" because they haven't had the exposure to the knowledge before.

(And while I could arguably add a fifth ingredient to "smart" -- "Opportunity" -- I'd argue there is so much information exposed to us wherever we are that we can't reach saturation. Again. Arguably.)

With myself and other "smart" people, I've heard versions of the phrase "those people" used. Not Smart.

When I look at the twelve smartest people I know, they're not just smart in aggregate -- They higher in Intelligence, AND Knowledge, AND Wisdom, AND Action. And eight of those twelve don't even have higher education degrees.

(And no, I don't come close to cracking the Smart Twelve.)

Oh, and so I don't forget -- Making sure I don't over value my smarts and/or don't giving people enough grace with theirs doesn't mean I'm a milktoast, and doesn't mean I don't call people out on their dumb crap.

But it means if I do, I better have cleaned up my house, too.

One of my favorite managers in the world used to try to get people to see what they needed to see to do their jobs, get on board with change that was going to happen regardless, and so on.

And if they didn't get there -- with spoonfuls of patient help -- he might ... lose it a bit.

"Do you want me to get some crayons and draw a ****ing map for you?"

He wasn't deriding intelligence, and he wasn't belittling the person -- But he was saying, "You should have been able to get there, and I helped you -- a lot -- and you're still not there. You better get there."

(Fortunately, I never had that phrase used on me. Though I probably deserved to have.)

(Dr. Doom and Data provided by Marvel. © 2014 Marvel)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Celebrating Papa Day

Today is special.

Today is "Papa Day".

Five years ago today, my dad-in-law -- a neat, fun inspiring man -- left this life. It sucked.


I remember him. Often.

And not just the last few weeks and months of his life -- those whirlwind, visceral memories of surprise phone calls and rushed road trips, of moves and the funeral and packing and selling that sometime threaten to take over all of the other memories.

I remember how Dad laughed, how easy-going he was, how patient he was in the middle of inconvenience, discomfort, and pain (we all found out after the fact that he was playing on the floor with the kids "with a horribly sore back" -- that it turned out was actually his spine cracked from the growth of a tumor).

I remember his sense of humor, the self-deprecating-but-not-insecure fun he had at his own expense.

I remember his generosity. That man would tip a waitress in need more than the cost of the meal. And not look back.

Later the day that dad passed, my then-seven-year-old daughter asked if we could remember the day, and celebrate it as "Poppa Day", with all of those good memories.

I promised her I would. And we do.

Tonight was about listening to fifties sock-hop music (could have been polka or Pavarotti, too), dancing around the open-windowed house like goofballs (because it doesn't matter what we look like or what people think of us), and eating horrible sugary baked treats like those he would buy the kids when he visited us.


Why do all of this stuff that could be called self-medicating, or superficial, or no longer needed?

Kind of like baskets and candy and trinkets at Easter or Christmas, this fun, light-hearted break from routine -- revolving around something more important -- gives all of us a chance to step back, laugh, tear up, be reflective, be goofy, and focus on an example and a legacy that's lasting and outside of ourselves.

At one point tonight, my youngest daughter (a toddler when we lost Dad) stopped eating her white-emblazoned chocolate cupcake, and just stared into space.

Thinking the sugar had won, I asked her what she was thinking about.

"I know Papa was a very good man," she said. And went back to eating her cupcake.

That's why we do Papa Day.