1/12/2008 9:12

Intellect, Control, Identity

One adolescent I'm thinking of is noticably intelligent and tends to deny or diminish this fact. Earlier, this youth often claimed he was not smart but that was so patently false and so quickly dismissed by the adults that it became an untenable position. More recently, the statement has been, "See? I can be smart when I want to be." Undeniable reality has intruded into the situation, but the phrase "when I want to be" is used to imply that "I can be like everybody else." With this youth, the fear of being different from others (and presumably distanced from them as a result) seems to be the motivation for the behavior.

One adult I am remembering is naturally adept at social manipulation. This person consistently denies any desire to lead other adults by becoming a manager, for example, although leading youth is sufficiently non-threatening. (I would like to lay out the claim that I am not very susceptible to social manipulation, and that the resulting conflict has highlighted the natural talent of this person.) Nature will tell and talent will show, but so far the dissonance between statement and behavior remains contained and therefore unmodified. The reason for this behavior is not completely evident. My guess is that a greater potential dissonance exists between the exercise of this person's talent and the person's understanding of the world. (Perhaps the specific area is categorical ethics and whether any social manipulation can ever be "right").

Here I believe we have people with intrinsic abilities who choose to deny their indisputable talents in favor of conforming to their sense of normality. Human beings are a curious lot, but we are not generally irrational. Why would any of us want to be less intelligent or less powerful than we really are? The facts are that most of us make such claims, and that we have reasons for doing so.

We may be unwilling to accept the burden which comes with the gift. The burden of leadership, for example, is seldom placed on those with no talents for leading.

In claiming exceptional ability we define ourselves as a target for social leveling: "You claim to be so smart," we've been told, "and yet you couldn't even figure this out."

We may be afraid that exploiting a particular talent is inevitably contrary to our understanding of our proper role in life and society.

Yesterday I heard the commentary by Michael Jeck on Akira Kurosawa and The Seven Samurai. Once in Kurosawa's youth his older brother Heigo took him to see the destruction of a great earthquake, including not only the rubble but piles of corpses. The story is that by doing this Heigo taught Akira that if he faced reality directly, there was no terror. I suggest that the lesson could be applied even to the less terrifying truths about our own capabilities. I would not suggest, however, that doing so is simple, or easy, or without any fear at all.

Facing reality head-on, can we accept the kind and scope of leadership appropriate to our abilities?

Admitting our strengths while claiming our weakness, can we enrich our neighbors wihtout losing our modesty?

Knowing that all our talents come from God, can we be willing to expand our vision so as to see the way to use every gift?

I'd like to think that we can. But I am loath to judge those who have not done so, knowing full well that there are parts of the actual reality of my own life that I am not yet willing even to admit into consciousness.