What is Intelligence?

“You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

All of us need someone we can trust. If we’re smart, we understand that it’s not wise to open ourselves up to just anyone. And how would we set out to decide who’s trustworthy? We could ask others about the person. We could also observe and evaluate whether that person is respectful, self-controlled, honest and kind-hearted. We might also make some sort of determination about the person’s intelligence.

I mention it because I’ve treated lots of folks who’ve been disappointed and hurt simply by misjudging another person’s intelligence. The assumption behind this article is this: if we were to understand what intelligence really is, that understanding could help us make good relationship decisions.

Before going any further, let’s begin by defining the word. What exactly is intelligence? Is it about having a photographic memory and knowing lots of facts? Is it expert ability in a particular area, such as science, math, languages or the arts? Is it common sense? Is it the capacity to understand other people? Or is it the gift of gab, the ability to sound smart, to talk fast and respond with a quick wit? Can a person be highly intelligent in one area, while lacking intelligence in other areas? It seems so. History recounts endless examples of people who were outstanding in business or the arts, but whose personal lives were in chaos. In a recent example the CEO of one of America’s biggest corporations, who had already been divorced three times, was about to go through his fourth divorce.

Once you’ve determined your definition of intelligence, you can go about discerning intelligence in the various people you encounter.

But before you go there, here’s a thought for your consideration. The ever-increasing speed of technological devices and the force and speed of images and sounds emanating from those devices have conditioned us to expect fast responses in just about everything we do.

Now, consider this. Every two, four or six years, we vote for a representative or leader. It’s very clear that our voting decisions are affected by our conditioned demand for quick responses to our needs. In this case, quick answers to our questions. In fact lots of studies indicate that we form an impression of a candidate within 27 seconds of seeing him, even before he starts talking. And when he does talk, if he responds quickly and confidently, using certain kinds of words, we might conclude that he is intelligent. The candidate gives the impression that she need not think too long before speaking, so we conclude she really knows her stuff; she’s got the facts right at her fingertips.

Furthermore, if the candidate has charisma – erect posture, a confident, direct gaze, a winning smile, a strong voice and the power to persuade – we conclude he is smart.

It’s abundantly clear that some of us will decide that a person is smart by the way she sounds and looks. But hold on, now. Not so fast.

We’ve already seen that a person who is highly successful in one area can fail in another area. So, how is it logical to conclude that a person who can talk and think fast, is actually intelligent? How do those skills translate to other important life skills, like parenting, a strong work ethic, leadership, team-building, decision-making and problem-solving?

When we’re making an important decision about another person – to marry him, to hire her, to elect him, etc. – we want to have some idea how the person is going to act in the future. The best way of predicting that is the way the person has acted in the past. No matter how you define intelligence, please consider how you can tell whether someone has it, or not. Learn about the person’s history and his past behaviors. Understand the choices they’ve made in life. Listen to the accounts of trusted people who’ve had close contact with him. Obtain a sufficient amount of information that will help you tell if a given person is really intelligent, or whether the person merely looks and sounds intelligent. And remember this: people are not always what they appear to be.

Finally, here are some ideas for you as you form your own definition of intelligence. Could true intelligence be:

the ability to cut through to the heart of a problem and generate a solution? 

the ability to make decisions based on reason and facts, not on emotion? 

the ability to form opinions based on truth, rather than on rumor or based on what others believe?

the ability to distinguish between a false argument and a valid argument? 

the ability to express an idea so clearly that virtually anyone can understand it?

the willingness to listen and respect the input of others?

the capacity to empathize?

the ability to learn from one’s mistakes?

If this article has sparked some curiosity, and you’d like to improve something about your life, please call me at 219-309-3928. I’d be more than glad to provide a brief, no-cost consultation.