Monday, November 14, 2011

The Myth of Smart and Stupid

Not a long ago, I was in Jeddah. My love for this city must come from its diversified background. No one judges you or intervenes. You are free.

I was walking down the Cornish with a friend whom I consider one of the smartest people I've had the fortune to know. We shared a lot, our passion for reading, our passion for fitness, our passion for change and we both grew up in Saudi Arabia. within the first few minutes a conversation with him, you can tell he's a very passionate ,strong hearted, person.

We're discussing a topic which I forgot now, but I clearly remember how it led me to bring the topic of Noam Chomsky, who's a prominent Jewish professor at MIT. I didn't expect my friend to know who Noam Chomsky is, but I was shocked when my friend asked me about the meaning of the three letters: MIT! otherwise known as Massachusetts Institute of Technology!
At first glance I thought he was joking. But he actually didn't hear about one of the top engineering schools in the world.

I know my friend isn't stupid, but the question that aroused was:
Why a man with such intelligence and deep intellect doesn't know about MIT?
Am I exaggerating? Was I too judgmental? Yes, I was. If this incident had occurred with a total stranger, I would have judged him to be stupid! So, what was my friend?
Before we answer that, let's study more cases.
I recall having a discussion with a Saudi housewife in which she told me that she heard of a cartoon called "Hiroshima and Nagasaki" and she was very excited to watch them.
At the same time, what makes high GPA Saudi female college graduate unaware of car driving techniques, while you can cross the bridge to Al Bahrain where you can find high school female graduates driving their cars in full control.
Another situation that puzzled me. a Saudi mother showed me a video of her 7 years old daughter, named Tala, astonishingly performing a song she had written and played on an electronic guitar. Not only that, the song was inEnglish. But that wasn't the stunning part. A while ago, I taught a group of 12 to 17 years old orphans a poorly executed English course, what surprised me was the fact they couldn't spell the English alphabet.
Were the orphans stupid? Was Tala a super smart person? Do Saudi female college graduates have a slow learning curve? The girl who told me that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were good cartoons came from a privileged family.
My friend who didn't hear of MIT is a very bright young doctorate researcher, who spent the largest share of his life in the UK.
I think you're starting to see to where I'm heading with this. No? ok, allow me to dig deeper.
There's a worldwide , well known, test called the IQ test or the Intelligence Quotient test. Without going into details, this test measures the individual's intelligence and compares it to a standardized scale. For a normal human being who goes to college and graduates, his or her IQ is located between 90 to 109. For a person who's below 90, he or she is mentally challenged. On the other hand, a person with an IQ higher than 109, that person is superior.

Back to the cases I discussed. I know those people, their IQs are not superior, but at the same time they don't have challenged mentalities. They have an average IQ, their minds functioned perfectly normal if not extraordinarily at times.
So what do we conclude from the above? Individuals IQs aren't the problem. Be patient, we're zooming in on the problem. I'm just eliminating the normal excuses.
As you've seen, I went from a young doctorate researcher, to  an average housewife, to super college girls who can't drive cars,  to a talented 7 years old girl and a smart orphan teenager. A wide range of normal thinking individuals that
represent clusters of our community.

So what is the reason that made them unaware of well known facts?

I think we can see the picture now: it's the circumstances and the experience and the knowledge they have accumulated in their lives.

The doctorate researcher spent his life in UK, he got soaked so much in that life style. He just didn't happen to stumble upon the mentioning of an American university called MIT. Us Saudis, on the other hand, we tend to have a certain fascination for the American culture, but British don't! It's as simple as that.
The housewife who didn't know the horrifying truth of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, well, she didn't finish high school. She got married off too early. She was blessed with a little angel baby in the first year of her marriage. She became a devoted wonderful housewife. Something not uncommon is the Saudi culture.
Why Saudi female college graduates can't drive while Bahraini high school female graduates can master it easily? The answer couldn't be easier. We live in society that bans such doing and uses religion as an excuse. So Saudi girls aren't slow learners, they just weren't given the chance to practice that. And when they attempted to earn it, they were sadly rejected.
Let's revisit Tala, the super talented girl who ,at the age of 7, wrote and mastered an English song. Opposed to a 16 years orphan couldn't list the English alphabet. Unfortunately, this one is a bit complicated and depressing.
When the mother showed me the video, I took a glimpse to her eyes, they were filled with pride. She was so proud of her little daughter because she invested well in her. How did she do that?
The mother had showed me a list of books her daughter reads. And another list of activities Tala performs on weekly basis, inside and outside the school. The mother herself was an honor college graduate. She knows that education is the best weapon she can equip her daughter with, and she did it fantasticly. Tala is a true leader. I once watched her in a volunteering occasion as she read a story to a group of kids at her age, and in some cases, the kids were older. It's only natural that we can expect the best future for this young lady.

I guess now we can understand why the orphan kid couldn't spell the English alphabet. At the age of 16, he lacked a role model, the true value of morals, or a proper education. The government provides them only with materialistic needs with no concern to their emotional needs. They did a good job spoiling the morals and values of those unfortunate kids.
I remember when I first visited them for an English lesson, they were very interested in me more than the course itself. They wanted someone to look up to. Not that I'm saying I'm suitable role model, but they viewed me that way.
They need guidanceMoral lessons. Someone who can teach them the value of intellect, respect, and honesty.
It's true, they do have fancy plasma screens and they ware Nike shoes. But what of good is that if their IQ keeps declining due to the lack of healthy mental nurturing?
So let me go back to topic:The Myth of Smart and Stupid.
Most people relate those two terms with one's IQ. The truth is it's completely untrue. IQ measure one's intelligence, something that comes in the genes, and we've little control over that. We can improve upon it by healthy mental practices. IQ is objective. You can pinpoint it on a scale.
Smartness and stupidity are not objective, they are subjective. They are opinions that differ from one individual to another. What some might view as smart, we might consider it stupid and maybe wrong. why? Because we expected them to know! It's not fair.
The accumulative knowledge and experience we have, the society, family and friends we surrounded ourselves with are the basis of how most of us form opinions about life. We became too judgmental. If something doesn't fit our point of view, it becomes wrong.
We have seen how people chances were taken away from them, sometimes it was out of their control like the orphans and Saudi female college graduates. And  sometime it happens due cultural heritage like the Saudi housewives who chose devote for their husbands. Please don't think I'm criticizing them, I'm just discussing real life cases.
Do I have an Ultimate Solution? I would hope so! I think being open-minded here counts for a lot. Don't close your options to your surroundings. If you come across a comment that might seemed stupid to you, don't jump to conclusions. Try to ask that individual why he or she put it that way. No one likes to be called stupid!
Another solution is being curious, inquisitive, imaginative, and try develop your own sense of art and literature. When you see a kid using your note as a coloring pad, don't punish them, rather, embrace them. Buy them more coloring pads. Don't make them fear their intelligence. Nurture it. Help the kid find their areas of creativity and passion. And improve upon it. This could be the greatest gift one could give to kids.
Finally I would like to recommend that we should all thrive for intellect. We shouldn't accept matters at face value, we need to test them, examine them and question them. We shouldn't become slave to our cultural legacy and inherited principles. We need to create our own standards, definitions and values.
I hope my words make sense to you. If not, please argue them! question me! over-smart me!
I welcome that with an open heart!


  1. Beautiful! Simply put.

  2. just went through, what you have expressed in these words, well words are only words to those, who never go into the oceans, of knowledge, and get pearls of words, out of these oceans, and then make a necklace and present this necklace as a speech, to fascinate the people around....i am back in bahrain....shafiq

  3. Hmm abdalrahman ,,, iv always been hunted by the feeling of responsibilty towards kids like the ones u mentioned above, and sadly I'd always blame the closed environment I thought we lived in... Then I decided I MUST light a candle even tho most people won't accept me or my ideas. I decided to be sarcastic about myself rather than depressed over people's unfair judging!!!
    I do agree on what ur saying BUT I have a tiny part I would like to add.. Is that if we keep giving excuses to those who don't get the chances at young ages then we r just being a part of the problem right? I mean people reach a certain age where they should make a clear decision of developing. Even with the lack of chances..
    I believe that at some point WE MAKE CHANCES.. if we just sit and wait for the chance then we might just bury every hope left..
    Sooooooo my point is I agree no one Is stupid but some people make the decision of giving up and allow the ghost of MR/MS STUPID to haunt them...

    Sorry 6awalt alharja :D

  4. it'd have been better if you were to devise a clearer definition for smarts/stupidity & then confine yourself to it through the whole post. For all I can infer from the examples introduced in this post speaks of a fuzzy (not clear) view of the true nature of humane intellect, this alone makes really hard for readers to provide the proper arguments you asked for at the end of the post. Yet, I'll do the best I can,

    1)knowing/not knowing what the acronyms MIT,KFUPM,USA,KSA stand for can only measure -at best- the amount of "info" a person has conceived. on the other hand, intellect is concerned with the ability to relate sets of data (=info) to deeper/newer implications.

    2)from your remark,"Not only that, the song was in English", it must be known that languages are only means to communicate humane innovations, they tell nothing about the individual's intellect; in the example of (Tala), her intellect stems from the fact that she managed to innovate a fine melody & meaningful words.

    3)In the case of orphans, though the correlations are on your side in this part but still, a person who seems to be concerned with a "deeper" understanding such as yourself shouldn't be convinced with them as there're many instances of people who've had it all but still turned out to be "morons" and on the other hand, some people lacked all what a proper childhood must have but grew up beautifully (in terms of their smarts).

    Of course, I'm not knocking on the whole premise here, the whole point of these propositions is to imply that you need to form a more profound view on the nature of intelligence; more profound than the one you "implied" in this post

  5. I love that you have contemplated these issues. I agree that education, and therefore intelligence, is mostly subjective. I also agree that all too often people negatively judge what they are unfamiliar with. This is the root of most of the conflicts today and throughout history. It's nice to meet you on Twitter. Peace to you and yours.

  6. Good post... but the fact that an IQ test doesn't measure intelligence and is subjective, is common knowledge. The developers of the test have already stated all that. Well written post, but nothing new.

  7. Amazing read and Great concept. it's a big challenge not to be judgmental but we shall excel at trying our best at least.

    Thank u for making me rethink my attitude toward what I conceive as stupid and as smart.
    & carry on writing my fellow citizen, I really enjoy my first read at your blog, wish u the best :)

  8. Don't close your options to your surroundings. - safar

    Help the kid find their areas of creativity and passion. And improve upon it. This could be the greatest gift one could give to kids. - safar

    we should all thrive for intellect. - safar

    before reading this article, i would've easily classify anything as either smart or stupid, thanks to you, ill think twice before judging what so ever.

    recommendation: share this article to more people.

  9. Guys thank you so much for the replies and comments, I'll get back to some of the points risen in sha Allah. Really appreciate your interaction and input.
    Thank you all.

  10. straight and simple.. 'don't talk my talk when you haven't walked my walk.. so before judging me, first walk in my shoes a mile..."

    and the part "IQ is objective. You can pinpoint it on a scale.
    Smartness and stupidity are not objective, they are subjective. They are opinions that differ from one individual to another. What some might view as smart, we might consider it stupid and maybe wrong. why? Because we expected them to know! It's not fair." ... kudos!!