“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
Genius is not something you are, it's something you have. In fact, it's something everyone has. In ancient Greece and Rome the term was used to mean a guardian spirit, and when applied to the faculties of the mind, it was used synonymously with what we today would describe as soul or higher self. It wasn't until the Renaissance, when artists were fed up with the masses treating Genius as something mundane, that the term was altered. Philosophers, scientists and artists like Diderot and DuBos wanted to elevate creativity to a place where it was respected and admired. However, as time passed it became widely accepted that though everyone may have the potential for Genius, only a select few had the capacity to connect with it. Thus genius was elevated by the Romantic era to be a quality that was only utilized by the greatest minds.
As a student of educational studies and social psychology, the misunderstanding of this word is very frustrating to me. We have been conditioned from an early age to believe that intelligence is preordained. Either you are born smart or you're not. You've got the goods or you don't. Those lucky enough to be given a talent might do something memorable with their lives and the rest of us better learn how to get by with humility, grace and a tiny paycheck.
That assumption is false. Such a philosophy helps overachievers feel privileged and makes it easier for underachievers to remain inactive. On the whole, it is a detriment to everyone because it makes us content with the average. It makes society complacent, and keeps everyone from reaching their highest potential. Beginning at a young age, we are categorized by those in positions of authority. Parents, teachers, politicians and clergy pass judgment upon children that lead them down one path or another. In the educational system it's called “tracking”. Certain kids show promise in kindergarten. It's easier for them to read, they pick up on information without difficulty and when given a test for a high IQ are sent on the fast track toward AP classes, scholarships, University education and an upper class lifestyle. Others struggle with pronunciation, stumble while reading in front of the class and have a hard time memorizing their multiplication tables. Right away they are placed in remedial classes and considered to have special needs. If those children graduate at all, they are only challenged to do so with the minimum requirements and will likely struggle financially and socially for the rest of their adult life. Everyone else fits in the middle, floating around with average grades held to an average standard, while their talents and gifts go unrecognized and unappreciated.
We carry these false stereotypes with us into adulthood and wrongly assume that a persons worth and potential is decided by their status. Someone working a factory line must do so because they aren't smart enough to be an attorney. Tom is an accountant because he's good with numbers but not creative. Sally settles for an office job bored to tears because she doesn't have talent for anything else. It simply isn't true. There have been countless men working in mines, kitchens and fields who if given better circumstances would have become a leader in quantum physics. Millions of women have pretended to be less intelligent than their husbands and fathers, deciding that being attractive and loved is more important than writing a book or working in a laboratory. So many people have wasted their lives in a state of passionless misery because they feel controlled and confined to roles that are inescapable.
Michael Michalko, an expert on creative thinking, has listed the qualities that most geniuses possess.
These are qualities that anyone can possess if given the opportunity. Isaac Newton developed his early theories on light and gravity while on forced leave from Cambridge. While the plague ensued in the city, Newton hid on his country estate, contemplating the universe in a quite place, undisturbed.
Today, it feels like we aren't given the luxury of time alone, time to think, time to make connections and nurture our creativity. It's hard to balance our dreams, pay our bills and be there for our family and friends. In the end, humanity is a system just like any other. We rely on one another to keep our world together. The person that serves us lunch is as important as the person that hands us our diploma. I think when we can look into the eyes of everyone we meet and see their genius instead of their job title, then we will become a better species. It's important for us to know that humanities potential is limitless, and therefore so is the potential for each individual. We are all beautiful. We don't live in a hierarchical world, but a circular ecosystem in which every component is vital to the well being of the whole.
Go connect with your Genius, and bring something into the world that elevates us all.