“I’m not smart,” she said, her eyes wide with pain.

I never get used to the heartbreaking words I often hear from the little brown couch in my counseling office. Labels can be difficult to peel off once they stick. We wear beliefs about ourselves like tattoos – messages about who we are that have become a part of our identity.

Intelligence is no exception. Somehow “smart” has become something that we either are or are not. It’s easy to understand how our perspective has been shaped the way it has. After all, most schools and many workplaces tend to measure and celebrate a very specific kind of intelligence. Not all of us have been given a safe place to display our particular brand of “smart.”

Scores and rankings fail to define a person. Who we are cannot be described with a number. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that we need a broader definition of what it means to be intelligent. Perhaps it’s time to stop asking ourselves if we are smart or not, and start asking what types of genius we see in others and ourselves.

We are wise to consider different types of intelligence in order to better appreciate one another for the people we are instead of how we perform. Some of us think easily in terms of numbers and reasoning. Others of us are skilled in understanding our own thoughts and feelings and how people interact with each other. Some of us are able to ponder deep questions about life’s meaning and others can understand space and organization. While still others are musically inclined and have an ear for pitch and others have unique body awareness and coordination.

When it comes to intelligence, it’s not a matter of “if.” It’s a matter of “how.” Intelligence isn’t about measuring people, it’s about appreciating people – noticing one another’s gifts.

 When it comes to intelligence, it’s not a matter of ‘if.’ It’s a matter of ‘how.’

Seeing one another for who we are and the unique talents that we have to contribute changes the way we interact with each other and ourselves in a variety of ways.

Resist Comparison

When we compare, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. When we think of intelligence in terms of measurement, we are forced to rank people according to their performance instead of noticing and appreciating the essence of who they are.

Embrace Community

No one possesses every kind of intelligence and everyone is intelligent in some way. While we don’t need anybody to complete us or make us more significant, acknowledging the different types of intelligence and understanding one another’s uniqueness allows us to be better and brighter together  than we might be on our own. We have the potential to miss valuable opportunities when we make the mistake of dismissing someone on the account of not being intelligent in one particular way.

Challenge One Another

When we consider intelligence to be a matter of “how” and not “if,” we resist the temptation to try to change one another and instead, we look for opportunities to challenge one another. Different kinds of intelligence foster different ways of thinking that have the potential to enlighten us if we give “different” a chance to teach. “Smart” is not something that you have to fight to be. You already are. The adventure begins when we feel confident that this is true.

You have nothing to prove. You already have everything you need to contribute to the world’s needs in a valuable way. Cease the striving and wondering about how you measure up. And let’s begin the practice of celebrating ourselves and others and appreciating the way we all think differently.

How would you describe the kind of intelligent you are?

Image via Auste Skrupskyte


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