I recently watched the pilot of Aaron Sorkin’s 2012 behind-the-scenes cable news program The Newsroom. As pilots go, it ranks among the best I’ve seen. (Granted, it’s a Sorkin drama, so there may be a bit of bias there.) Regardless, the show opens with one of the most hit-you-in-the-face rants I’ve ever seen on television:
But the takeaway for me was not the “America isn’t the greatest country in the world” thing. It was about intelligence, and it’s denigration. If you missed it, the line I’m referring to is:
“We aspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior.”
Think about that. Think about the current state of discourse in this country. It’s not just political, even though that’s where it shows up the most. (One side absolutely belittles it, and one side goes out of its way to hide that they may possibly have it, because lord knows we can’t be shown to be intelligent. What would voters think?!?)
It goes farther down, though. It goes to everyday life. I see it in my daughter’s relationship with school and her school work. She would belittle her responsibilities and/or her intelligence about a particular subject because she thought she wasn’t supposed to be smart. She wanted to “fit in”, and she believed that fitting in was to be less intelligent and less caring.
She cares about her grades and getting her assignments finished and turned in. Yet, she jokes with her friends “I didn’t feel like doing that thing, I didn’t care”. She absolutely cares. And when the friends go home, and the social pressures go away, she toils in her room to get everything done.
AND THAT’S OKAY. It’s actually better than okay. It’s good. It’s called being responsible.
I would routinely hear her talk amongst her friends and describe herself as not understanding something in class and laughing it off as if it were no big deal, when she absolutely understood it. She knew the subject matter, but didn’t want to show it because she thought it would make her look “uncool” or “nerdy”.
And that makes me sad and angry and confused all at the same time. Why does one person’s intelligence make others feel inferior? Because that’s what this boils down to. The reaction of the “other” is to belittle. And it works. It’s powerful and it works. My daughter is lucky in that she has parents like Jayme and I to fight that viewpoint. But others may not be as lucky. Kids are especially vulnerable to this. They may not have that support system in their lives.
Encourage your kids. Encourage your friends. Encourage your co-workers. Encourage your fellow man, for goodness sake. Intelligence is a virtue. Treat it as such.