Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When Did Being Smart Become So Shameful?

Thomas Edison was probably the smartest guy in this room.
Below are two columns. The left column contains five quotations, and the right column features the famous people who said them. Without using Google, try to match each quotation with the correct speaker.

1) I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m certainly not the dumbest.
A. Michael Bloomberg

2) I'm not the smartest guy, but I can outwork you. It’s the one thing that I can control.

B. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
3) I’m a great believer in low self-esteem.  So consequently, if you don’t think you’re the smartest person in the room and you think you’re going to have to work a little harder. . . you can actually do quite well.

C. Bill Rancic

4) I'm never the smartest guy in the room. I'm willing to work harder than most people around me, come earlier, stay later.

D. Nick Hornby

 5) I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues.

E. Jay Leno

If you can't figure out who said what, don't worry. The quotations all convey the same basic idea, which may seem quite noble. After all, there's nothing wrong with humility, even if it's used to highlight your strengths. But the issue I find perplexing is: why is being the "smartest" considered shameful while being the "hardest working" considered an honor? 

My guess it has something to do with the American values of hard work and opportunity. Concepts like "if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything" and "no pain, no gain" reflect how we think about success: it only comes as the result of hard work. Being smart means being arrogant and stubborn, and working hard means being passionate and devoted, spending all hours of the day devoted to your business. I'm all for hard work, and whenever I tackle a project I always give it my all. But is it possible that our definitions might be hurting us more than helping us? That we are focusing too much on quantity over quality, and on how much time we spend, rather than how we spend our time?

I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I think I know the answer. And speaking of answers, here are the correct responses to the quiz above: 1)D; 2)A; 3)E; 4)C; 5)B.

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