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Why ‘Smart’ is Dumb

A call to rethink your notions of intelligence

Photo by Maria Koliopolous

Photo by Maria Koliopolous

Hope Stratman, Features Editor

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I’ve heard the word ‘genius’ used to describe students with straight A’s or 36’s on the ACT. However, I’ve also heard it attributed to Picasso and Mozart.

Who’s to say what intellect truly is?

In its most basic definition, intelligence is defined as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” However, these days we’ve taken to using the adjectives ‘intelligent’ or, more commonly, ‘smart’ to describe those who are gifted at academics, knowledge in certain areas or standardized tests. Likewise, ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ describe those who lack these talents.

However, one of the most significant realizations I’ve come to in the last few years is that everyone has different skill sets, ways of learning and natural abilities — so why should a trait valued as highly as intelligence be judged so restrictively?

The colloquial usage of ‘smart’ is a flawed way to label someone; I find that such a usage of the word is simultaneously prohibitive and ambiguous.

Terms such as ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ are prohibitive when they are used only to describe those that are analytically gifted. This is tragic; ‘intelligence’ is so highly valued in our society, but, in holding ‘intelligence’ in such high esteem, we often don’t stop to consider that people who aren’t ‘smart’ in the analytical sense may be equally gifted in other ways.

Another pitfall of the label is that ‘smart’ is often used super ambiguously. Rarely is ‘smart’ used to describe someone who “acquires and applies knowledge and skills” proficiently; rather, it refers to those with an aptitude for test-taking, wisdom, certain GPA, a certain reading pace — I can’t even tell you how many qualifiers there can be for ‘intelligence,’ generally all of which are within the realm of linear thinking. This can be problematic when a person is called ‘dumb’ because they don’t excel at one of these areas, so they start to think that they’re ‘dumb’ in all of them.

In fact, so many of the accomplishments that we associate with intelligence are actually brought about by factors besides a natural proficiency for learning. For example, exceptional grades are often a result of hard work rather than innate intellect; likewise, the ability to remember trivia or facts at the tip of a hat generally stems from an impressive memory rather than an impressive intellect.

And honestly, ‘intelligence’ doesn’t really matter. I believe that while certain things, including a natural aptitude for learning, can make life easier, you can get just about anywhere with hard work and dedication. Instead of focusing on being ‘smart’, set your energy toward improving your work ethic and your character. 

Not everyone has the same analytical abilities. However, no one is better or worse than anyone else; we’re just different, and we have different talents and capabilities. The next time you’re about to call someone ‘smart’ or ‘stupid’, reflect on the power that those words hold, and perhaps select an adjective more suited to your meaning.

In short, be smart about ‘smart.’

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Hope Stratman - Features Editor

Hope became a member of The Flightline in August of 2016. She is a senior this year involved in activities including Speech and FBLA. Outside of school, she enjoys lists, photography, and naming inanimate objects. You can email her at [email protected]

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