Posts Tagged ‘myths’

Someone made a rather plaintive comment in this Google+ conversation, and it’s been stuck in my mind ever since: “So, again, what is the point of being smart if it does nothing for you? If you really are so smart, why can’t you get what you want?”

There are so many myths floating around about being smart and what that might mean. Even defining “smart” is full of pitfalls. I realized when I tackled the subject of intelligence a few weeks ago that it was a bit taboo, but I didn’t realize the full extent of it until I was reading other people’s reactions. So of course I had to write a follow-up.

A Few Intelligence Myths Exploded:

1. What is the point of being smart? There is no intrinsic point. It is not something you choose for yourself, just as you can’t choose to be naturally athletic or flexible or have perfect pitch (although I keep hearing rumors there are ways to train this) or be gifted with languages. There are things you can do to take advantage of any of these things (hard work and training), but not everyone will choose to use these skills or have the opportunities to do so. In the same vein, recent studies suggest it is quite possible to train yourself to be smarter if you are interested in doing so.

2. Smart people can get what they want. Ha! I wish. I don’t know if any studies have been done on this subject, but I haven’t read anything about how smart people are so much more happy than less smart people. Plus, what if a smart person wants something that requires additional skills besides just being smart (and most accomplishments do require additional skills)? And what if said smart person doesn’t have the right additional skills and fails (for whatever reason) to develop them? Or what if the smart person in question is on track to get what she wants and then is deterred by any of a host of reasons, including ill health (either hers or a loved one’s), economic realities, or her background? Or what if the smart person does get what she wants and it just doesn’t look like the societal norm?

3. Smart people look down on those who they perceive as less smart. First off, I mentioned before that many genius-level people (and perhaps particularly women) suffer from impostor syndrome, meaning they don’t believe they are as smart as they are. Secondly, I also mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect  and the false consensus effect back in March: the idea that people who are above average (including having above average intelligence) tend to assume everyone is just the same as they are unless presented with quite explicit proof to the contrary, thereby often underestimating their own intelligence. How all these people who don’t even realize how intelligent they really are can be looking down on everyone else is beyond me.

Secondly, even if they do realize they are intelligent, that still doesn’t mean they feel superior. Sure, there are a few people who do, but just because you are smart does not mean you are automatically arrogant and non-appreciative of other people’s abilities. Which leads me to my next point…

4. A specific kind of intelligence is more important than anything else. Um, no. There are many kinds of intelligence, and basic IQ test-measured smarts are no more useful than a host of other mental attributes. These include emotional intelligence, charisma, experience, wisdom, empathy and insight, kindness, courage, determination, a strong work ethic, and leadership skills. For example, if a very intelligent person wants to complete a difficult project but is not willing to work hard to do so, they probably won’t do as well as someone who isn’t quite as intelligent but is willing to work her ass off. Ultimately what matters about our lives is what we choose to do with them, not whatever set of attributes we start out with. Intelligent people who realize the truth of this aren’t likely to be very arrogant at all.

Any other intelligence myths you can think of? (Besides the whole “women aren’t as intelligent” thing we already talked about.) I’d love to hear from you.

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– People should travel around the world to learn more about both themselves and other cultures.
– People shouldn’t waste their time and money traveling abroad when you can learn everything that’s really important about life in your own backyard. 

– People shouldn’t write more than one book a year because the quality of their writing will suffer if they try to do more.
– People who don’t write at least two books a year don’t have a strong work ethic.

– People shouldn’t have children because studies prove that parents are less happier than people without children.
– Everybody should have children because passing on your genes and knowledge to the next generation is the most important and fulfilling work there is.

– All authors should aspire to be offered a traditional publishing contract because that is the only established way of both distributing your work and filtering for quality.
– All authors should consider going indie because not only is the market tightening, but the contract terms from big publishers are becoming less and less favorable to new (and some mid-list) writers.

– Moms shouldn’t work because you don’t want strangers raising your children.
– Moms shouldn’t stay at home because women shouldn’t give up rewarding careers and fail to reach their full potential.

Remember that just because something is true for you does not mean it’s equally true for someone else. We all live in this world together, but we’re all individuals, each with our own point of view.

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I have recently been struck by the preponderance of family dysfunction in Western fairy tales and myths. It seems that everywhere I turn, I find another evil mother or unkind sibling. Here are only a sampling of stories involving family strife and betrayal:
  • In Cinderella, she has an unkind stepmother (who I read was the biological mother in some older versions), an absent father, and cruel step/half/full sisters who compete with her for one man.
  • In Thousand Furs/Donkeyskin, the father either tries to or succeeds at raping his daughter the princess.
  • In The White Cat, we have three brothers competing for their father’s throne.
  • In Blockhead Hans, we have older brothers being cruel to their youngest “simple” brother.
  • In Toads and Diamonds, we have an evil “step”mother and sister conspiring against our heroine.
  • In Snow White, we have the evil, jealous stepmother who wants her stepdaughter to be killed. And what about the father? He’s apparently alive and just completely neglectful of his daughter.
  • In Hansel and Gretel, we have the evil wife who wants to get rid of an excess of children.
  • In Beauty and the Beast, we have a father willing to sacrifice his daughter for himself.
  • In the legends of King Arthur, we have the seduction of King Arthur by his half-sister Morgan, and his troubled relationship with his son Mordred.
  • King Lear has its root in British mythology, and shows the unhappy relationship between a king and his three daughters (and jockeying between the three daughters for position, including use of armed force).
  • In Rumpelstiltskin, we have a father willing to sacrifice his daughter to save himself because he lied, and the daughter in her turn carrying on the family tradition by being willing to sacrifice her future child for her own safety.
  • In Rapunzel (or now Disney’s version Tangled), we have the overprotective and narcissistic “mother”, exemplified by the wicked witch who pretends to be a blood relation.
  • Don’t even get me started on those crazy Greek gods and goddesses!

I find this particularly fascinating because I’m used to thinking of family dysfunction as a modern phenomenon that only began to be spoken of in the last few decades, but of course there have been dysfunctional families since the dawn of time. Not only that, but it seems to have been a subject of much interest and anxiety in times past to be featured so prominently in the surviving stories.

This consciousness in fairy tales runs counter to the zeitgeist of the 1950s, which seems to be personified by the TV series title “Father Knows Best” and idealizes maintaining an image as the “perfect family”. No, in fairy tales, the downtrodden member of the family is usually the protagonist of the story, and these heroes and heroines are often shown having adventures and using adversity to help them transform so that they are able to escape their tormenting relations. In other words, they often win. The evil family members in question often meet horrible and gruesome fates, like the step sisters in Cinderella who have their eyes pecked out when attending Cinderella’s wedding, or Snow White’s evil stepmother who is forced to wear iron shoes and dance until she drops dead. Other times our protagonists merely leave their family members far behind as they begin their new lives.

Are these tales truly discussing dysfunctional families or are they merely providing enough hardship and conflict (often in the form of evil family members) to force the protagonists into growing up and coming into their own? Whatever the answer, it’s hard for me to read them now without noticing the implicit moral of distrust of family and reliance on self — maybe with a little help from a magical item or a fairy godmother along the way.

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