What Does it Mean to be Smart?

geek 501

This is a topic that has been coming to mind for a while. There are a number of reasons, and it’s a post that could go really long. However, instead of exploring each alternative, I’ll just try to touch on them and let you weigh in.

It ties in with questions of Geek versus Nerd. Geeks are defined by their passions and engagement, while the only main difference I can see for the use of the term “Nerd” is there is some assumption then of being “smart.” It’s the nerds who get forced to do others’ homework in the media. Although again, I feel there’s a lot of overlap between these two groups and definitions thereof, if not total overlap.

However, I’ve also been thinking about this a lot with the Geek Baby. There’s so much talk of all these things you can and should do to help with a baby’s development, from breastfeeding to tummy time to reading and music. And so, preoccupied with doing these things, we’re preoccupied with wanting to make sure our baby is smart.

Still – what is smart? Intelligence, with the IQ test behind it and all, has a much more precise sort of meaning. Intelligence is about “getting” things. However, at points just about anyone can be smart. Often it just takes making a “right” decision or observation. And it can be really relative, depending on others and on the situation. And hindsight. So what is smart?

Being right seems like a good starting answer, but it also requires hindsight in general to judge. So generally, in decision-making moments, it’s an educated or intuitive guess being made, which time will show as good or bad. Is the person who is good at decision making the smart person?

Of course, educated guesses open up another possible definition. Knowing things. Being smart might be knowing things, maybe about a specific thing, maybe about everything. In this way, we can all be smart by specializing. By knowing about our specialties. And really, anyone can, with enough time and dedication, learn and know things. So are we smart after we do so?

Or are we smart by making the decision to study and learn in the first place?

Of course, with studying and learning comes remembering. With memory, with recall of the things we do know, we are being smart in the moment. We can sound smart by memorizing and remembering really sophisticated things. We can probably be smart by remembering really pertinent or important things. But memory is a fickle thing: does it really define being smart?

There are other alternatives as well, being intuitive, or being persuasive, or being good at things… Surely other definitions that you could supply. In fact, please do so in the comments below!

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7 responses to “What Does it Mean to be Smart?

  1. A wonderful topic I could talk for hours about! I’m going to stick to an example of my children. But before I get to that, I wanted to say I agree with everything you’ve said, because how can you put a definition on smart – the scale, in my opinion is vast. My youngest daughter has a quick brain, a gift for remembering things and excels at school. She can be challenging, but at the same time she is inquisitive so her need to challenge the information she is given isn’t always a bad thing. Academia doesn’t come as easily to my eldest daughter, but she is smart in so many other ways. Her emotional intelligence is far beyond her years. She reads people, assesses a situation and knows how to come up with a solution. She might not be great at maths, but if you give her a problem to fix, she works through the variables regardless, assesses the odds and works things out on her own. How she does that might be different, but it is a pleasure to watch. Take common sense, for example. It is a sign of intelligence and wisdom, regardless of what a test might say about your smarts. How a person adapts, sees the world, communicates and interacts – they are all important. So I try to teach my children the value of tackling a problem in their own way; to challenge and ask questions, to understand the value of kindness and looking at things for different points of view. Okay, stopping now…! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Great examples 😀 Two thoughts…

      One is oh man, I am so bad at common sense. It’s something that makes me creative and inquisitive, though: I work on figuring things out for myself in my own way, because the “obvious” way or the way “everyone does it” (common sense) do not necessarily come to me. I like you mentioning intelligence AND wisdom here: very D&D 🙂

      Second, and something I thought of including in the post above, is Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. On WikiPedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences Because another great example you gave: getting people. Doing so is “smart” but not book smart or intelligence test smart or memory smart or… but it’s a good smart to be 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m with you on the whole common sense thing. My sister has it in spades, so she obviously took my portion 😀 And Gardner’s theory is great. There’s a lot to unpick there. You’re so right too – getting people is a good smart to be. It’s cool when people can alter their register. I have a friend who modifies language to suit different communication needs (in BSL) and it is absolutely amazing. He does it so seamlessly too, makes no judgements and sees people as they are – unique 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s a lot to think about here because none of us should ever stop learning. I think that by asking all of these questions, you are already showing that you are doing what is best with Geek Baby.. You are aware that there is a lot out there and a lot of different ways in which to support your little one’s learning and intelligence. That tells me you are aware of all of these and you’ll be on top of it. Just keep asking questions and support Geek Baby when their own unique brand of inquisitiveness and intelligence peeks its head out. Pay attention to not only the “book smarts” but all the rest, including the “people smarts” that is so important to get on in this world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such an interesting topic! There are definitely different types of intelligence: there are those who have what I guess you could call “numeracy” brains and those with “literacy” brains. Not that the people in the second camp can’t count or vice versa but one type of thinking just comes so much more easily to them than the other. I see that with my husband and I: he has a maths brain, I really don’t. I have a PhD in English Literature so I ‘d like to think that shows I’m pretty smart but it’s a very specific type of intelligence. Words I can handle, numbers I can do but I really have to stop and think about them. Occasionally he gets annoyed with how long I spend frowning over excel spreadsheets and the like and says things like “‘you’re so smart I can’t believe you’d struggle so much with that formula” and I always say ”I have a different type of brain to you.” I guess the really smart people are those who manage to be all-rounders.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are definitely those types of intelligences, and a whole spectrum between them. When I take tests I tend to come up in the middle… And say with my IB exams, I did best at both maths and history. It did make it hard to decide what to pursue! So, library 🙂

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