The harsh reality of intelligence

Intelligence falls on a Gaussian distribution. A few people are uber-smart, a few people are not-so-smart, and the rest exist somewhere between these polls of genius and vegetable. To rebel against this reality is as futile as declaiming variance in height. “But everyone must be of similar stature!” Nope. Sorry. Nature, judging by her creations, disregards such fair and reasonable notions.

Many times, I’ve considered the above and asked myself where I fall in the distribution of intelligence. The answer, I suspect, is “somewhere in the middle.” I think this for two reasons. First, I’ve witnessed myself do some dumb, nonsensical things. Second, I’ve known people and I know of people whose raw intellect would obliterate mine in a one-to-one contest.

I didn’t used to think this. I used to be an arrogant ass, carrying myself with an aloofness that I thought justified because of my superior intellectual and perceptive abilities. I thought myself better and sharper, and I clutched these illusions to my chest the way a person shuffles up to a fire to stave off a chill. I was terrified that, without these comforting untruths, I would be lost to the dark, cold night.

This may seem rather pessimistic, but only if you believe that all that matters in life is that which is genetically endowed. Sure, I agree that intelligence is important, but it isn’t the whole game. Consider the words of Marcus Aurelius:

“No one could ever accuse you of being quick-witted. 
All right, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you “haven’t got in you.” Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer—beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.”

Vice doesn’t require a superior intellect. Both the smart and the not-so-smart are capable of greed, lust, envy and cruelty. Why not the same for virtue? To endure, to persist, to resist; these verbs and these virtues are not dependent upon inherited intelligence. So if, like me, you feel you haven’t won the intelligence lottery, fear not. The game is not over. It’s just different. Because we can’t rely on pure intellectual power to see us through, we must place our faith is something divorced from the prowess of our minds; our humanity. What others claim with intelligence, we must fight for with ferocious, unyielding virtue.