I think I can safely admit that, at times, I am a moron, and I sincerely mean that. Although my brain is wired to discover multiple associations between concepts quickly, I struggle with understanding people’s situations; therefore, I’m prone to forming bad conclusions about their experiences. What this means is that, despite my ability to grasp complex subjects, I can easily form erroneous beliefs about others, creating a barrier to empathy.
Interestingly, we find this dichotomy around the world: many individuals of high intellectual capacity struggle to understand others’ challenges. So, their high IQ is balanced with an empathic blind-spot. It’s easy for us to believe that high intelligence is correlated with being smart (i.e. knowing a lot), but that vast region of knowledge doesn’t pertain to all areas, and can miss some really important ones. People, human beings — that was the main area I couldn’t apprehend.
I began studying psychology because I wanted to learn about myself and discover why I was the way I was, but then, some part of me wanted to understand others, and, maybe, some deeper part wanted to bond with them. I was full of judgments then, of myself, of others, holding all of us to extremely high standards. I was sure of my expectations, believing that we just had to want something bad enough to go and get it, whether it was success, weight-loss, or some other form of high achievement. Through them, I saw the potential that each of us had within; but, I also perceived all the ways that we should have been living up to it.
My certainty of how things were and ought to be made empathy challenging for me. So, although I had intellectual potential, most of my contemplation resulted in conclusions formed through distorted thinking. But, in my mind, I believed that I knew everything. In essence, I hope that the takeaway from this is that being intelligent isn’t the same as being smart or insightful, as it can easily preclude you from taking in information that contradicts your preconceptions. My worldview was formed at an early age: when I was told that I was lazy, rather than depressed, and cowardly, rather than anxious. And, because my intellect was the only thing of value I believed that I possessed, I held on tightly to my beliefs, convinced that intelligence equated with knowledge, therefore making uncertainty anathema, a dangerous prospect.
I suppose this was what R.D. Laing went through in desiring to be a wise man. Laing, who understood complexity but (like me) struggled to understand people, needed to feel like he was a guru in order to love himself, if he ever even did. I guess, in his mind, his wisdom was all he had, or maybe he simply believed he needed to be perfect and to have it all. Regardless, his theories, while brilliant, were often wrong. So, he never truly was the sage he wished to be, and he never discovered that he could have been loved even though he wasn’t, which was the most significant tragedy of his long life.
It took some time for me to realize that I wasn’t, either, and that, conversely, I could also be pretty dumb. In forming judgments, I made false assumptions about people; moreover, I made them fairly hastily. And, I only recently realized that those factors indicate stupidity, rather than marking a sharp wit. Understanding my own projections of laziness, unattractiveness, and stupidity helped me accept that I was using them against others in order to distract myself from my own internal cruelty. But, just as helpful, was accepting that I was being the thing I didn’t want to be in forming those conclusions about others.
For, stupidity isn’t forgetting some important detail; it’s diminishing the significance of the biological and psychological reasons why we all forget. Laziness isn’t failing to lose weight; it’s failing to account for the genetic, biological, and psychological sources of accelerated weight gain. Ugliness isn’t some inherent genetic difference; it’s shunning and berating someone because they don’t look like you. And, the traits themselves (stupid, lazy, ugly) all make sense in their own contexts. I was all of those things because of where I came from.
My quest for empathy began as a journey for higher knowledge because I wanted to be brilliant. But, in understanding why we do the things we do, I developed a deep perspective, which afforded me the gift of self-compassion (which isn’t fully actualized). In understanding what it means to be a human being, I became much less harsh on myself. So, for those of you who think you’re smart by being so judgmental, you’re as far away from being wise as anyone can be. Quick conclusions aren’t the marks of a great mind; careful and thoughtful consideration of another’s experience and perspective are the only indicators of wisdom.