Sep 22, 2011

What Does It Mean to Be Smart?

This post was inspired by this New York Times article n the relationship between success and failure. The following few paragraphs were the result of a conversation I had with a friend about this article and the value of education over email:

There has always been much emphasis on the value and importance of education, however, it has become evident to me that education has the most value only in the presence of character. I'll choose a group of humble hard working people with average education over a group of conceded, insecure and know it all ivy leaguers. In fact I feel like the more educated and high specialized people become, passed a certain threshold, the more close-minded they become and their ego prevents them from learning from others with lower status than them. Education is great if it only grows knowledge and character and not the ego.

Education+experiences+ humility+character = Smart?

To be smart, one needs education, character and the humility that comes with failure and the understanding that there is always more to learn. I believe in our society today, we tend to align smart or intelligence with someone's status in society or expertise in a subject that is "cool". The type of smart which I'm not and I hope to be has nothing to do with my status in society, career or education but rather how secure and in peace I am with myself and my environment. I think this type of smart I seek is not found in urban environments where people are constantly chasing status and self recognition following the latest trends but rather in places where people are aware of their shortcomings and are okay with it. The notion that we can all be Mark Zukerbergs is a delusion and ties our self worth to our material accomplishment. He is successful in terms of having lots of money and respect but is he truly happy? I wouldn't be. The truth is that the majority of people spend most of their lives and efforts improving their status and external image among their peers rather than focusing on developing character. Improving character requires facing, acknowledging and overcoming insecurities through exposing our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and not being afraid to experiment.

We are all selfish driven by survival instincts and vulnerable to societal-made artificial values and trends which does not make us internally happy. However, I do think there is a way to happiness and kindness if we focus on what we have now, that is our friendships and relationships instead of what we may have in an unknown future date climbing up the corporate ladder.

Smart is recognizing and distinguishing what truly matters to us internally and what society claims to be the means to happiness. Smart is understanding how our emotions influence our decisions and actions.

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