28 Jun 2012

You know you're stupid when...

....you can only roughly pencil in two answers in the Times2 crossword.  It’s got me thinking about the concept of intelligence.  Is it really linked to how well you excel in school or university exams?  Or is it about how much you know?  For starters, my general knowledge is rather appalling.  I know little, if anything, about current affairs, politics, music, artwork….  But I could recite you the first page of today’s Mail online.  Yep, I’m the sort that knows who’s dating who, what Kate Winslet wore to the Oscar’s in 2010 and the names of Brangelina’s brigade in ascending order.  Seems like pretty useless information to have wrapped under my belt, but I can’t help that my brain tends to gravitate towards the more trivial aspects of life.

It sounds like I’m about to brag, but I assure you, that was not my intention.  Hold your breath.  While I have a soft spot for the trashy stories churned up daily by the Mail, I somehow managed to accomplish 3A*s and 1A in my A levels.  When my peers are privy to this information, I make sure to follow it with the line “But I’m actually not that clever”.  You think I’m being modest, but I’m just being truthful.  I dallied with the idea of applying to Oxford or Cambridge; the prestige of attending such a brilliant university would certainly sit well with future employers.  But something stopped me.  I knew deep down that I was a phoney.  I lacked that innate passion for dull books which is pretty consequential when you’re applying for a BA in English.  As much as I wanted to share my excitement for “insert dull book here” with the rest of the world, all I could think about was reading the new instalment in a Lynda La Plante series.  Somehow I felt that speaking over-zealously about my adoration for J.K.Rowling would be inappropriate when sat opposite a world-class critic on Shakespeare.  I couldn’t quite bring myself to admit that the most recent book I read was actually aimed beneath the high-school demographic, or that I cried after finishing Harry Potter (a part of me died inside), but gave a sigh of relief when I finally turned over page 20 of King Lear.

I’ll freely admit that I made a huge faux-pas during my interview at UCL on the topic of Othello, having only watched the highly-adapted stage version at London’s Trafalgar Studios.  It’s only slightly awkward when you speak wildly and passionately about the meaning behind Desdemona’s suicide when she was in fact brutally suffocated by her husband (uh-oh).  I felt Shakespeare turn in his grave somewhat (and I think the tutors did too).  From there followed a failed attempt to resurrect the situation by remarking that we’d clearly been reading different versions of the transcript.  You won’t be surprised therefore when I tell you they rejected me right off the bat.

So what I’m trying to say is: good grades don’t mean everything.  My 4A* predictions meant nothing against my superficial knowledge of what some regard as Shakespeare’s greatest masterpiece.  Of course, performing well in exams shows great capability.  But surely intelligence far exceeds a marking criteria established on box-ticking mechanisms?  Achieving a First (in English at least), is about flattering the system, the marker, and “the handbook”.  It’s not about raw intelligence; it’s about knowing and understanding what the system perceives to be intelligence, thus a conjured up version.  Intelligence isn’t a concrete concept, but an abstract one.  Who, in theory, has the authority to judge intelligence?  The writer of the Times2 crossword might rate intelligence on how many answers you get right; while a maths teacher on how quickly you can recite your times-tables.

Just think for a second about how many times you’ve lied to make yourself sound better, more intelligent, more interesting?  A recent survey showed that over 75% of participants admitted to having lied on Facebook.  As my Dad pointedly reminded me last night: less is more.  If you’ve achieved a lot, the less you need to write about it.  The more you fail, the more you tend to embellish your “accolades” (if they can even be called that).  A one page CV is better than five pages of tedious waffle.  There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance.  Know your failings and don’t start believing your own press releases.*
Watch this space.


*I’d like to thank an old colleague of my Father’s for this one.

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