photos by Jeffry W Myers http://www.mindsightmoments.com
By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW
Have you ever spent time looking at trees? If so, you’ve probably noticed the magnificent way the branches spread against the sky, the interplay of light and shadow. How awesome something so stationary can take off in so many different directions, each branch individually seeking light yet still working together to supply the whole through the magic of photosynthesis. I marvel as well at all that happens underground, the invisible shadow of the branches in the root structure, each tentacle of root seeking moisture and offering this moisture upwards to reach the top most leaf.
No tree could survive if it contained just one branch, growing in just one direction. And yet, when people discuss intelligence they often mistake a single branch for a complete tree.
If you think of intelligence as a vast field of consciousness, in which awareness can exist as potential as well as in verbal expression or behavior; then there are as many forms of intelligence as there are branches of trees.
There’s the intelligence of knowing how to design a building that won’t collapse in an earthquake as well as the intelligence of knowing what flavors work together in a meal. There is the intelligence of knowing when our friend is feeling sad and how to offer them support as well as knowing how to fix a leaking radiator or to build a fence or to train a dog to come when called or how to potty train a reluctant child. There’s the intelligence of being able to paint a painting or to make someone laugh or write a poem, or knowing how and why to be kind to our spouse when they are stressed out and grumpy and we want to run away from them shrieking.
Yet in our culture academic intelligence is held up as the highest form. Why? In part, it’s for the same reason we don’t go to the beach and count each grain of sand… Recognizing and honoring all the different types of intelligence would require enormous patience. Here are some other reasons why academic intelligence wears the jeweled crown:
It’s quantifiable. You can teach it and test it and pass it along like a baton. Unlike say, creativity which requires novelty and by its very nature is unique and thus cannot be tested.
It’s a business. Academia is an inflation-proof business that, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, requires a widespread belief in order to remain significant. If the spell were broken we might ask problematic questions like, “Exactly how many people does a society need who can explain the allegorical meaning of Darkness Visible?”
It supports a social and economic pecking order. Educated people are easy to identify based on their use of words. (Ever noticed how political correct language belongs exclusively to the educated, as opposed to the people it describes? How clever is that: A members-only system of communication masquerading as social service! )
It’s convenient. Upon meeting each other, it allows us to rapidly sort others into “similar” and “different” groups as opposed to putting forth effort to get to know someone who (gasp!) looks or sounds different then ourselves.
A few years back I asked my best friend to help me build a shed. She is a carpenter who has vast physical intelligence and I am a book smart person who has all the physical coordination of a nap-deprived toddler. For those of you who have never experienced the joys of wood frame construction, there are three necessary evils one must contend with: level, square and plumb. Each requires the patience of Job. I whined and grunted as we excavated, cut, and hammered. It was hard work. The nails alone deserve some complaining exposition here: sixteen penny nails are long. Imagine trying to hammer a crowbar length-wise into dense surface, say a block of concrete and you get a sense of what carpenters must do.
At certain point I happily discovered,
“I’m not afraid of the Skill Saw anymore!” I felt so proud. She said,
“You should always be afraid of the Skill Saw.” Oh. Yeah.
The doorway of my shed stands testament to our very different fields of intelligence. On the left, the side she constructed, the wood is smooth and each nail is positioned like a target in the concentric center of a circle from the hammer head which drove it in. On my side, the wood is splintered and bashed, the nail heads bent partially over and driven in crooked as if a demented person on a unicycle had a temper tantrum while holding a hammer, drunk. I tried to do a good job: I am just quite bad at doing things with my hands.
Many of my brightest, most creative and intuitive clients fail to recognize the depth and breadth of their intelligence because they grow up in a society that says intelligence is limited to what they teach and test in school. They mistake the branch for the tree.