Posted 10 years ago
Giftedness versus Genius
I’d like to spend a moment looking at this distinction– because it’s basic to how many people see themselves and evaluate their capabilities. But just for a moment, let’s assume that giftedness and genius really are the same thing. In that case, a person who jumps very quickly through the hoops of elementary school should continue jumping for all the years to come. But very often this isn’t what happens. Do you know if you are gifted? You see, our perception of giftedness and genius has often depended to some extent on the age of the person we’re considering. Sooner means smarter, in other words. The sooner a child learns to read, or learns to play the piano, or learns to do long division, the more genius-like that child is perceived to be. There are a couple of things wrong with that perception. First, a number of the world’s all time great geniuses were at first thought to be anything but gifted. Secondly, it’s by no means the rule that prodigious children turn out to be genius adults. To some extent, this may be because of the extra stresses that are placed on obvious prodigies. A lot is expected of them, and burnout is a frequent consequence. But it’s also possible that many seemingly gifted children aren’t really gifted — or, rather, they’re no more gifted than the boys and girls around them. The fact is, childhood is simply a time when there’s a lot of emphasis on measurement — and it’s also a time when things are pretty easy to measure. Standardized tests are a staple of American education, as they have been for almost fifty years. There are all kinds of instruments for measuring a child’s achievement levels, as well as their innate capacity to reason and to learn. And sometimes there’s a dramatic difference between those two measures. When that difference exists, the concept of the “underachieving child” comes into play. It’s the definition of a child who has unusual potential which is not showing itself in equally unusual achievement. But at some point, we stop measuring people in the same way. If we kept it up, we would see some things that are obvious to the casual observer, but are rarely documented by the kind of standardized tests that we’re constantly giving to children. Even as casual observers, we see that other often people catch up to the gifteds and the prodigious. The child, who finished his math workbook before everyone else even started, did something impressive — but sooner or later everybody else finished their math workbooks too. Sooner or later, everybody learned to read and to spell. I might mention, in fact, that a huge and very profitable industry has grown up around the idea of giftedness in children, but there’s no such profit motive in the grown up world. Sure, we know there are highly talented adults who don’t access all of their capabilities. Or who don’t get the recognition they deserve. We know that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, and that Emily Dickinson only published three poems in her lifetime. Still, there is no readily accepted concept of “underachieving gifted adult”….
Which is a pity, since I can almost guarantee that that’s exactly what you are. I can virtually assure you that you’re a latent genius…and once you understand what genius really means, I’m certain that you’ll come to agree with me.
The word genius happens to have a very rich heritage. Today we talk about people being geniuses, but in the past people had a genius. Instead of something that you were, genius was something that you possessed, or, that possessed you. For the Romans, the word genius referred to a guardian spirit that protected people throughout the journey of their lives. Every individual was born with a unique genius that looked after them, helped them out of difficulties, and inspired them at crucial moments. At someone’s birthday, the Romans celebrated the birthday of the genius as well as the person. They celebrated the mysterious power with the person as well as the physical human being.
Do you know someone who has been told they are gifted or a genius? What impact has that label been on their lives? Do you think we try and stick our children into certain “boxes” and ask them to be something they may not be?
Let us know what you think in the comment section of this blog. Your thoughts and experiences may serve to help others!
Dr. Tony Alessandra has authored 14 books translated into 17 foreign languages, recorded over 50 audio and video programs, and delivered over 2,000 keynote speeches since 1976. This article has been adapted from Dr. Alessandra’s Nightingale-Conant audio CD series, Secrets of Ten Great Geniuses