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  • Writer's pictureHayden Purcell

Intelligence (& The Fear Of Stupidity)

Ever worried about how smart you appear to other people?

Ever said something and instantly become insecure because it sounded incorrect? Ever held back your opinion on something because you were worried someone might hit back at you with a more informed opinion?


To a certain degree, intelligence is a matter of perception...And also, like everything, relative to the situation you're either in, or applying the term to. Stephen Hawking is considered remarkably intelligent within his fields of study...It was his passion, and he'd devoted his life to it. But would you call him stupid for his inability to open a jam jar...?

"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

A lot of people consider an IQ score to be an indicator of intelligence; in that there's a correlation of high IQs to such fields as theoretical physics, but also an average benchmark, to which you're either above, below, or in excess. But an IQ is a measure of problem solving and your ability to thinking logically about certain things, rather than covering a broad spectrum of brainitude...

I'll wager there are a bunch of low IQ people who's general knowledge has their team winning every week in the local pub quiz...With the high IQs losing quite dismally.

Some people retain information well, but are incapable of applying it to anything useful, while some people might intuitively be able to do something practical without knowing where they learnt the skill or knowledge to do so.

Don't get me wrong there are people who genuinely lack intelligence, and are for all intents and purposes...Thick as two planks. Though our judgments of such are based upon our perception of our own intelligence, and the expectations of a basic standard, defined by our upbringing.

So whilst an IQ score can set a benchmark, we have developed our own subconscious benchmarks to which we assess the people we meet or see on TV.

This judgement is one of our innate qualities as human beings that we can't avoid.

The awareness of our own judgments on these things, whether conscious or unconscious is where a fear of our own stupidity and an anxiety of how we present to other people comes in.

Our standard is different to others, and based on our influences; be that our surroundings, parents, the things we've read, and all round general quality of education. Some people consider me to be intelligent, yet I wouldn't class myself as such, but equally, there will be people who think I'm an idiot...Likely some of you reading this, sighing under your breath at what you might consider misinformed opinion or perhaps simply incorrect. (uh oh, have I triggered the wrath of the keyboard warriors...?) However, I feel that the existence of anxiety surrounding our presentations of intelligence to others, likely indicates a higher standard of general intelligence. The awareness that this could be a problem for you, and the desire to not want to appear that way, can become a latent motivator towards absorbing knowledge, naturally allowing you to retain information and intake a lot of random stuff to be recalled at a later date.

That being said, you cannot avoid the things you are naturally drawn to. So much as to say, you also need a passion for things...In the past, with all the things I became passionate about I sought to find and take in as much information as possible.

Film and relevant production processes, music, psychology, writing etc. My passions in all of these capped at various points, and music/audio was the one I attempted to establish a career within. I know lots of random things about how to make and write a film, but I wouldn't know where to begin actually making one. I never academically studied psychology, but I've spent a lot of time looking at things online, reading and watching videos that I find interesting, amongst other avenues.

With regards to the psychology aspect, when I was younger it helped me to be the 'agony aunt' to many of my friends, who would seek advice on a regular basis. Whilst most would communicate problems to friends in seeking a solution, I would be trying to understand how the problem is a problem...What is it about the reactions to it that are affecting us, and in what way, to better help with forming a solution, through understanding.

As an adult, psychology has helped me navigate the fields of management, and has highlighted itself to me as a vital component towards developing and looking after yourself, and your staff, as well as being useful in understanding how different sales techniques work and can be applied.

Compared to someone who has no interest in film, psychology, or music, should they say something I consider to be 'obviously' incorrect, my initial judgement is to dub them dumb AF. Yet, if I were to have a conversation with Martin Scorsese about filmmaking, he'd likely think me someone who doesn't know anywhere near as much as I might portray myself to, and might judge me accordingly as well.

Like many things, it's important to satisfy your own needs for knowledge, if you desire to obtain it, then seek it. The concerns of those around you should be outside of this quest, and with it should always come the understanding that there will always be people smarter than you, just as much as there will always be people dumber than you, and often it will depend on the situation, or topic that you're tackling. But like with the general anxieties of what people might think about you, people don't generally go around contemplating judgements of everybody around them all the time...Most people, are actually instinctively a lot more self-centred than that.

People often expect that I'll be great at the music and film rounds in pub quizzes because of my interests and experience, but more often than not, I end up failing them, because it's general trivia that I find so specific, that I just so happen to have never seen the film or something. This expectation of those around me also left me feeling like I might be a bit dumb. As an adult, the simple notion that these quizzes are a bit of fun is enough to calm that background noise, but when I was younger, all I could think was what people must have thought about it...The answer is nothing, I just didn't know the answers. Simple as that.

Those who we feel come far under our standard for intelligence, are simply unconcerned with anything outside of their circle of influence.

I was watching an episode of 'Come Dine With Me' the other day, and one of the contestants queried their host that evening, asking if the Oxtail in the dish came from the "neck of the cow"...

That's one of those moments that TV producers love, because it makes the viewers feel like it's such an obvious thing, that they know for a fact they're smarter than that person. A vague sense of egotistical pride washed down with a massive dose of cringe at the stupidity of someones statement.

But I'm thinking, how does someone grow up to be a 30-something year old mother of however many and not be able to discern the transparency of something as veritably simple as the location of the 'Oxtail'.

My explanation is that she was potentially trying to make conversation, and/or playing up to the camera, and just didn't think before speaking. Her priorities would likely lie with looking after her children, and providing for them. To speculate further would be to think that whenever she gets a moments rest from that, it might be time for the escapism of whatever's on TV. She knows what she needs to in order to function within her circle of influence, and has no need for anything greater.

Some people splutter out nonsense without really thinking it through, whereas some others might do completely the opposite, overthink their statement to the point of querying its correctness, and perhaps not say anything at all.

I'm horrendously guilty of second guessing myself, it takes a big conscious effort to go with my first thought, or 'gut reaction', but interestingly, I'm more right than I am wrong when going with instinct. I also find it a much easier way to learn from the mistakes; if your first guess was wrong, it's naturally easier to recall, and will better replace that gut feeling next time...Mulling it over and going with your 5th or 6th turn of opinion, and when you go to recall, you'll forget which choice you made that didn't turn out so well, and likely end up in a muddle that makes you feel more embarrassed.

Appreciate the never ending learning curve of life. I'll touch more on the subject of higher general intelligence being a cause of anxiety towards intellectual appearance in a later post, in which I intend to explore a bit of existentialism.

For now, the best school of thought if you are struggling with these concepts is to think of yourself as lying in the middle. You will always say, and do some stupid things; we're not perfect, and no amount of knowledge that we attain is going to make us come across as absolutely flawless...To be honest, in doing so, would make us so intimidating to be around that we'd end up alone. To be too intelligent creates a threat to others sense of it, in turn causing the desire to avoid it.

Everyone has their smug moment to feel smart, and everyone has their embarrassing moment where you've not quite hit your best. A lot of these embarrassing moments of the past, growing up, may very well hang with us to this day, further attacking our sense of personal intelligence...Especially when we meet up again with people present around these moments (hence why the idea of a school reunion is one of my perfect visions of hell). I know there are a lot of embarrassing memories I have from school that I wish I could go back in time and change...Unfortunately, these were character building, defining moments, and also, I was a kid, I didn't know any better. You can't change the past, so remember these as early mistakes, and give yourself credit, you have learned from them.

People naturally align themselves socially with people on the same ballpark level of intelligence, as this is where your bonding through communication comes from in these friendships, the sharing of ideas amongst common interests, through which discussing can also help heighten each others sense of intelligence, and general knowledge.

These people will also know and understand when you've probably come across as stupid, and actually, won't think anything of it, because they know you're better than that...Unless they're taking the piss, as good friends should.


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