3 More Humility Posts to Go and I AM COUNTING!

Fault #5:  Impatience, otherwise known as intellectual arrogance.

In other words, I think I’m smarter than everyone else.

You know, the problem with blogging about your faults, is eventually you run into one you really don’t want to talk about.

I could say that I think I’m “righter” than everyone else, which, in other words, means I believe my version of reality is the correct one.  Buddhism again–all our constructs of reality are fantasies, dreams, narratives, stories.  None of us are right.  But, in being wrong, some of us are more accurate than others, and I would be one of the more accurate ones.  At least, that’s what I tell myself, all the evidence (being persecuted by construction, having relationship with chairs and refrigerators moving, being reactive with a tendency to personalize) DEFINITELY withstanding.

Although I must say that I’m enough in reality to know that outside of my tendency to be hurt by pretty much everything other human beings say and do, I can be fairly accurate in my assessments of how insane other people are and in what ways.  In other words, I am perceptive.  I’m actually perceptually and conceptually gifted, which means that in those two areas I often operate…differently, I would say, if I’m not being intellectually arrogant.  If I am being intellectually arrogant, I would say that I operate at light speed, and I can understand sophisticated and multilayered levels of meaning and their implications pretty much effortlessly.  Here’s the arrogance:  faster than pretty much everyone I know except like two of my friends and I feel weird when I’m around them, because it’s clear I’m not the smartest person in the room and that just freaks me out.

But with most people…well, this week the f*&^ing couples therapist started explaining the way nervous systems react to stimuli and she got four words in and I could have completed the paragraph.  Part of it was that I’m quite educated about things like this, and part of it is that I’m just fast.  I was fidgeting like anything while she went on about something I’d already figured out.

My German mother didn’t love the fact that I was gifted.  Gifted children are a pain in the butt, and she had two of them.  We both required lots of stimuli, we were both curious about everything, learned everything really quickly, got bored just as quickly, asked tons of questions about things we weren’t supposed to know about or observe.  I am very grateful for my gifted brother, and for the bond I had with him, which kept me from feeling like I was the only alien on the planet.  Because gifted children are also lonely.  I remember feeling like I had these huge eyes and this huge head and my body and heart couldn’t keep up and I wanted someone to explain why the world was so crazy, and why adults didn’t know what they were doing, and why everyone was so angry all the time.  Adults always seemed so angry, so afraid of losing their power, so insecure.  Parents, teachers, neighbors…it was like life scared everyone.

Of course, it does.

My brother and I were bored out of our minds in school.  I read adult novels under my desk all during grade school.  He stayed up all night and went to school with his hair standing on end, and slept when he could.  By high school, I was causing trouble whenever I was bored (which was always, as they’d mis-tracked me and I learned the class lesson in the first 5-10 minutes).  My brother just refused to go.  But because being smart–being weird smart–attracted the wrong kind of attention, I hid my real vocabulary under swearing and he became obsessed with contemporary music.  In other words, we learned to be cool.

Intellectual arrogance is a great cover for feeling you don’t fit in, you never will, and if you are a freak, and somehow not okay, at least you’re smart.  If, for example, you were bullied all during grade school for being a freak, really bullied, attacked daily, at least you knew you were smarter than the kids who terrorized and terrified you for six years of utter and complete hell.

Metta, always metta, for how we come to be who we are.

Of course, intellectual arrogance also plays nicely into being Ms. Fix-It, because since I am a light-speed processor, and still, on some level, a bored gifted kid, I’m like, Jeez, quit taking so long, I’ll just tell you, I’ll just do it, I’ll just fix it.  That’s easier than waiting and suddenly feeling scared and not knowing why. 

Plus, if I feel defensive, rightly or wrongly, I can intellectually fence myself out of pretty much anything except real meanness.   Because intellectual arrogance or no, I’m just not mean.  If you’ve ever really been bullied, it’s hard to be mean to other people.  I can be intimidating and fierce when I’m angry, and I’m definitely not someone to screw with, but I’m never or very rarely truly cruel.  Thank whatever/whoever that does not need to be on this list.

And thank whatever/whoever because intellectual arrogance and cruelty would be a nasty combination.

However, my Achilles heel is that pretty much anyone can out-mean me.  I’m intellectually fencing like crazy and one mean personal comment…well, so much for arrogance then.

But fine, I really, really, really don’t want to be mean.  I could add competitive to my list of faults very easily, and, since this is getting harder and harder to write, may just do so tomorrow as an easy way out, but there are certain contests where you just walk away, saying, sorry, I won’t play.  (And I do love to win.  I mean, I really, really, really love to win.  Even if I feel guilty when I do…ex-Catholic, remember?)

There’s a book by Chaim Potok, and in it there’s a gifted boy named David (my gifted brother’s name, as it happens).  David is so gifted that he can read Tolstoy very early in childhood, and he’s so excited about what his mind can do that he misses all the humanity of the story.  His father sees this, and he decides that in order to keep his son from becoming a monster of intellect, he will cause his son to learn compassion.  So he stops speaking to his son.  He knows that compassion comes through suffering, and he must teach his son this lesson, so he gives his son the silent treatment for something like ten years.

We’d call this child abuse.

However, the character, David, learns compassion.  He softens.  It kills his father to do what he’s doing, by the way, because he loves his son and he is cheating himself of the father-son relationship he really wants to have.

Intellectual arrogance is a defense.  I can joke about it–like when I’m teaching, I’ll say things like, “You’re all brilliant because you agree with me.”  And I am learning humility as I write this, as I see how life, suffering, confusion twist all of us into these shapes, and how the untwisting wrenches the hurt places, makes them rise up, forces us to choose, always, to soften or to harden, to heal or to become bitter.

My intellectual arrogance is mitigated by curiosity, because no matter how much or how often I think I’m right, I just can’t help wanting to know what everyone else has to say (except for the mean people…I have trouble wanting to know what they think).

And there is a counterpoint to arrogance, which is simply a confidence, a willingness to decide, to take a risk, to move out into the world based on trust in one’s own judgment.  I have that, too.

Humility, I have heard again and again, is being right-sized.  I’ll keep the confidence.  And maybe I’ll surrender being a smart girl in the face of too many bullies.  Because my intelligence didn’t protect me.  It made me stand out, but it didn’t give me the answer to cruelty.

The answers to cruelty come from the softening heart, from compassion, relationship, vulnerability, trust.  All the mind can do is recognize this.  Maybe, that’s what it’s for.

PS–Confidence, curiosity, humility (I have earned this one, I mean this is day FIVE).


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