Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. ~ Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
I found this quote today … or perhaps I should say it found me since it was the Values.com Quote of the Day (Daily inspiration by e-mail. Consider subscribing.).
Have you ever heard of “barking laughter?” I’ve always heard the term but never experienced it – until today. Oh, yes. Einstein’s quote resonated so well with me that I did the “bark-laugh” thing. That in itself isn’t so bad, except it’s Monday, and Mondays at work are pretty quiet because people who work four 10’s frequently have Mondays as their day off. Let me put it this way: “Fewer People” is to “Very Quiet Workplace” as “Barking Laughter” is to “Embarrassingly Loud.”
Yeah. I aim to entertain.
But … Einstein. I find his words oddly compelling.
Back in the early ’80s when I was working on my master’s degree in journalism, I chose the professional project route, not the typical research paper, or thesis. My topic was education of the gifted in West Virginia, and I searched and studied and interviewed and conducted statewide questionnaires in every county with the goal of writing a series of magazine articles.
I also had the opportunity to attend a two-day workshop presented by Joseph Renzulli, an American educational psychologist who is currently professor at the University of Connecticut. He had developed a three-ring model of giftedness, which helped broaden the whole concept.
His approach struck a chord in me. “Gifted behavior occurs in certain people, at certain times, under certain circumstances,” he said. So, think of three circles that intersect each other. One circle is “above average ability,” the second is “creativity,” and the third is “task commitment.” Where those three circles intersect and merge together, gifted behavior arises.
I was intrigued. So my main goal morphed into discovering how each county determined giftedness. What criteria did they use to decide who made the cut? Did they consider creativity as a factor? What about music? Art? Athletic ability? Perseverence?
Ah, beware of seeking answers. Just about every West Virginia county with a formal gifted program responded that, yes, of course they consider creativity, artistic ability, perseverence, musical ability, athletic ability – all of that. Yay, I thought. But I had thrown a normalizing question in the midst: “Do you consider IQ scores? If so, do you require a specific level?”
See, answers to that question trumped all others. And when all of my data was compiled, it was clear that an IQ score of 130 was the determining factor. If a student had an IQ of, say, 129, he wasn’t considered gifted, even if he was highly creative and displayed excellent task commitment. With an IQ of 130, he was presumed to be gifted, even if he didn’t display creativity or task commitment.
As someone who roots for underdogs and values fairness, this just hurt. Every child deserves to fly. And to be sure, I can’t speak for current practices; remember, this was 20+ years ago and I’m not in the education field.
Enter Einstein’s words today. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
I believe there’s giftedness in all of us, and I believe it happens when we are engaged in something that so fulfills our sense of purpose and aligns perfectly with our values. That’s when all the stars align for us, making task commitment a no-brainer and sending creativity surging effortlessly while our natural abilities and aptitude fuel it all. We look in the mirror and think, “I AM a fish, a very fine fish. I can swim like the devil. To think that, all this time, I was trying to climb trees.”
As a coach, I’m continually amazed to see how much it matters to people when they reconnect with their values and figure out what’s really important to them. I’m thrilled when they start challenging the gremlins that hold them back. Come to find out, all along they’d been trying to climb trees but just weren’t making headway. See, if you’re a fish, you can’t be squirrel, although you can live your life trying. Until we acknowledge what we are, understand our life’s purpose, and entwine both with our skills and abilities, we’ll forever zip through the water effortlessly, but live in agony because we can’t conquer the tree.
So maybe we need to look deeper into ourselves to find where our own three circles intersect. Where does your aptitude intersect with your drive and your talents? And maybe we need to cut others a break, too – our children, friends, spouses, siblings. Instead of pressing them to be perfect, do more, choose this career or take that promotion, maybe we can first help them discover where their circles intersect.
It’s there, I believe, that we’ll find our inner geniuses, and with support and encouragement, create truly fulfilled lives.