This is a response to the ongoing argument that springs up around the claim that “everyone is gifted,” as well as a follow up to last week’s guest post Claiming My Gifted Identity.
This discussion about giftedness is fueled by observations gathered around coordinating the young adult program at Beyond IQ for the third year running, as well as personal experience growing up gifted and asynchronous (what I call “highly variable”) without a community or friends with similar characteristics. For reference, Beyond IQ is a conference series which is a multifaceted experience including workshops, keynotes, activities, networking, and community-building for and about highly and profoundly gifted children, their families, and the professionals who work with them.
We have a fair amount of topics here, and a rather wide range of terminology and experiences. For context, the article, Giftedness: The view from within, gives an illustrative depiction of the way that the gifted experience the world differently. Specifically, it talks about asynchronous development, sensitivity, and qualitatively different cataloging of events being crucial components of giftedness. From the article:
Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The Columbus Group, 1991).
While there is not much chance that THIS will be the post where this rather thorny communication around giftedness is bridged perfectly, I figure I can try to connect with those open to understanding how much the label “gifted” is needed to avoid causing unnecessary pain to kids and adults who are unable to find their tribe, due to several understandable, but detrimental beliefs.
- First, the belief that the label of “gifted” does not serve a purpose for those who do not build their identity around scholastic achievement. Often expressed as “I am not that smart and/or I hate school.”
- Second, the belief that “everyone is gifted in something” and/or “giftedness is elitist.” These are attempts to make people feel a sense of desirable, but erroneous equality.
Before you attempt to lynch me for saying that people are not equal, please read the rest. We are neither discussing intrinsic value nor arguing the need for egalitarianism here. We are talking about the fact that in any test, any, someone scores in the 50th percentile and some above or below. When I refer to average, I mean measures of ability, not value. This would be true for all of the things that are not measurable as well, like emotional intelligence and creativity.
Most of my thoughts revolve around the need for gifted TRIBE for young adults. “Young adult” is defined as about ages 12 through 29, although the numbers are flexible. The discussion of gifted tribe matters because people often seek out the gifted community when they have kids and their small ones sprout little green antennae and start flying around the playground. Schools typically do not handle either the giftedness or the asynchrony well, so the parents seek other resources.
For gifted adults without children, it is still a major challenge to figure out how to find others to connect with, and how to build a life full of meaning and/or service, when available templates do not seem to work or are completely undesirable or inaccessible. Most people in this category hate the word “gifted.” It feels wrong to them. While I understand why they feel that way, and share some of this sentiment, it is crucial to talk about why this label is useful for self-understanding and true connection with others.
One of the arguments that is often raised in support of the idea that “everyone is gifted,” is that the term “gifted” only encompasses those who perform well in school, and leaves out those who are exceptional in other realms. While there is certainly room for scholastic giftedness in my worldview, the emotional, social, and moral intelligences are more salient and interesting for me. I need to ask a few more people from Beyond IQ to share their experiences. I expect that there will be a lot of overlap, but also some very pronounced differences between those who excel in school and those who are gifted in a way that does not mesh well with educational hoops. (I am often in the latter group).
One of the things that work the best for me about Beyond IQ is the concept of “beyond.” There is no measure by which we include or exclude people, but there are a few common threads. Being an information sponge is one, although we do not always sponge the information that is most valued in the mainstream. Another is having trouble meeting enough people whose social and emotional needs are close enough to one’s own that the other person makes intuitive sense. The way people know that they belong at Beyond IQ is that it feels like less of a bad fit than other places they have tried. For some, it is even a good fit.
For every 1 person in our community who excels at school, there are 3 or more who have some combination of challenges around productivity and performance, having a learning style at odds with the dominant system, or passions around something that is financially worthless in America – like most teaching and art. Others think that their social difficulties mean that there is something wrong with them (not just different) and that they are neither socially liked nor likable.
Still others believe that if they are not curing cancer or fighting for world peace, they might as well not exist, because food is wasted on them, and they don’t deserve to exist if they don’t save the world right now. The fact that it is currently out of their control seems irrelevant.
Many have trauma due to a combination of sensitivity, social isolation, real stuff that should not happen to anyone, and how their experiences of being out of sync registered for them. Many can not work with the first 3 therapists they try, due to both personality mismatches (including differences in cognition and not being a jerk) and insufficient training in the profession around working with our population. Add to that Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities, which make people seem pathological when they are not.
Most people who need additional resources neither think of themselves as gifted, nor even smart or capable (impostor syndrome). Much more commonly they feel alien – even to the point of feeling like they are actually a different species from those around them.
Gifted is sometimes about how much of something you have. How much art escaping through your fingers. How much empathy coursing through your being. How much drive to survive and evolve. How much emotional pain feels like a physical blow. It is not better (or worse), it is just more, and different and more intense than those who do not have that specific attribute. If it is neither too much, nor a problem, there is no discussion. For those for whom it is well regulated, it is ok.
There are gifted people who are emotionally stable, productive and athletic. They also have full lives, and do not have as much need for the gifted label. That is fine too, although we could use some more of them to come back and be role models, as physical activity is often a useful tool to bridge the social gaps and smooth out the emotional volatility.
For much of our tribe, there is not enough unconditional positive regard directed at the self, and without it, much energy is sapped. Saying, “I am not that different, just weird,” fixes remarkably little. Usually people place themselves in the “other/bad” bucket, or tell themselves, “I am fine and everyone else is broken.” Interestingly enough, those who grow up with gifted peers in an appropriate environment do not manifest social maladjustment and tend toward egalitarianism, rather that placing themselves above others.
Some people are average (once again math, not value), and are perfectly happy within a world that accepts and caters to them. Many are comfortable and like their life. To the extent to which this is not true, it is a societal systemic failure that preys on anyone who does not have the power with which to defend themselves. In many other ways, the world is also getting better. As a social policy and even personal ideology, unconditional positive regard is a great place to be as much as possible. It is a mindfulness practice as much as anything else for me, since it is not how my starting path manifested.
It has to be ok to be different, even socially and emotionally and physically and cognitively and spiritually, because WE ARE. It can be personally frustrating. We can have ideals. But it has to be socially acceptable not to lie.
Without the truth being ok, we can not have appropriate interventions for EVERYONE who needs them, gifted or otherwise. If everyone is essentially “gifted” and “fundamentally whole,” the government does not have a lot of incentive to “waste” money on providing special education to either side (maybe it’s a sphere instead… or a trimodal hump…) of the bell curve.
Ideologically I am fine with “everyone is ok as they are.” Politicly and economically I cannot stand for it. Because to deprive people of resources based on a mistaken ideology is unconscionable.
We desperately need to be able to say that people are WIRED differently to be able to understand ourselves and others. Otherwise, we will use instruction manuals which will produce ongoing error messages, because they are manuals for a different model of person. Just like medicine which is normed on the average white male does not work predictably and consistently in other populations. Neither do life manuals.
Blood sugar regulation, the rate at which the brain processes glucose, diet-regulated emotional stability, and physical health are often very different in gifted people and we are starting to see it in research. There is also a high correlation between allergy-based sensitivities and sensory processing differences. There are visible and measurable biological differences around intensity and sensitivity.
Everyone cannot be gifted, any more than everyone can be above average. Not even in ALL the different areas – someone is in the top 1-5% for each. Mathematically, it does not work otherwise. As much as I wish equality and true egalitarianism were on the table, it is not, and I am not willing to risk hurting people (further) because the way the world actually is, gives me a sad. (And the inequality gives me a lot of sad.)
I am most interested in the top 1-2% of people whose most relevant experiences have to do with personal sensitivity, social awareness, frequent social mismatch, and being able to SEE what is important, as opposed to being trapped in a perpetual matrix of social illusions and lies that people tell themselves to be able to sleep. And wanting to make the world better without forgetting the self-care piece or needing to dominate others in order to be ok with the world.
There are things I can SEE, that I cannot explain to people who do not have the ability to see them. My partner, Andy can kinda get it when we talk (some naturally and other I break down for him), but mostly communication happens because he trusts me (suspension of disbelief and at least temporary benefit of doubt – some stuff takes years to show and some on faith) and I don’t think he will mess with me so I don’t shut down and stay quiet.
There are systems and possibilities in my head that most people will never hear of, because after the first 5-30 words they will interrupt me to describe a world that makes them comfortable (or uncomfortable) instead.
I say education, they talk about school. I say gender, they talk about pink and blue clothing or trans* issues. I say smart, they think measurable inequality or academics. I say kind and aware and ok about the goth huddling in a corner not making eye contact and scowling at everyone, they look dubious. I say goals, they talk about money. I say whole food and nutrition, they talk about calories and weight loss. I say new research finding, they talk about their beliefs about left and right brains. I write passionately, and they tell me to calm down and not be so upset. I share that friendship and tribe are hard for me, and they unilaterally declare themselves my friend. I stop talking.
I wish for a world with fewer assumptions (We fight for it when we teach or when asked). Sometimes I try to bridge the gap, but sometimes I don’t. I simply don’t have a common language (or baseline reality) with most people. They don’t ask, and I can’t tell in fewer than 2,000 words, to start. (like this) (and this barely scratches the surface of the need to communicate and be understood) (if I am even understood) (hint: this is not a pain and discontent driven rant, it is something else). Almost no one notices who I am, and what I know and how my beliefs are informed by fact and research. (I get labeled smart and leader frequently, but that is not where I seek connection).
Things I know about not messing up living things are often ignored and are useless, when most people are not willing to believe things they cannot see (or believe that other people can see and understand things which cannot be simply and concisely explained, but require layering of thought and data over time, which still does not help everyone), or even just be willing to suspend their disbelief and do some scientific testing to see what is ACTUALLY rationally real in this world.
This is why, even if I only make one real friend every 2 years it is still worth all the investment of time (and frequent disappointments) in building a tribe of this subset of people, with the unfortunate but necessary label: gifted. Because anywhere else, I cannot speak even 100 words and be welcomed, encouraged, heard, seen, understood, or appreciated for who I actually am (once the novelty wears off). I could not have found a mentor, a partner, or any long term meaningful collaboration without this (or similar) community. (There are other groups who do not use the label, but have similar characteristics.)
This is what being gifted means to me.
Gifted is the only identity which ever offered me an option on understanding myself in terms other than crazy or a waste of potential.
Gifted gave me a place where I could grow, have a voice, and help other people.
I need to connect with more people like me, because there are things I cannot DO if the team I am working with cannot SEE what we are working on and cannot grow that sight. They can certainly help, and be included, but I need some redundancy in my ability and drive and vision or we fail when I run out of energy. This is no different from a circus act that needs people who are able to physically do an act, or serious performance athletics (two gifted areas in which I am not a member and never will be, as much as that was something I wanted before reality kicked in.)
Multipotentialites and people whose gifts are not currently monetarily valued in our society navigate a precarious road filled with confusion and well-meaning, but completely misguided attempts at helping us find the way “to a successful and stable life.” This often does not lead to happiness or an intact self-esteem, or even stability. For many the best state possible is a punctuated equilibrium, where the only thing that can possibly stay static for long is our own intact SELF, and without which anxiety and isolation dominate.
Most of our young adults usually fail to find compassion and understanding and patience from either their age mates or the adults who surround them (who while also often gifted, are often not comfortable enough in their own skin to tolerate uncertainty in their most valued “investment.”)
They need a safe space, and that safety is not found in a loud, crowded cafeteria full of people who cannot get why the blasting music and all the smells and the heat are not “fun.” Or in the classroom where they are so obviously “overthinking it” and “taking the topic beyond the scope of the syllabus,” or cannot stand to talk or be in a room with too many people looking at them when they talk, few of whom are anything other than coolly indifferent. Nor is it at home, being reprimanded for not getting fast enough to a “there” that does not exist (and has not existed in over 10 years, if ever).
Few make it out on the other side psychologically intact with a strong sense of personal power and a functional, competent drive to make the world safer and brighter for everyone. Isn’t this what we want more of? People who can use a wide variety of gifts (some of which we can not measure, quantify, or even understand yet) to make it better for everyone?
So, am I overthinking this? Is this too sensitive? Are you coolly indifferent? If not,
How can we cushion the term “gifted,” to better communicate the essence and value of its use?
What do you think can be done to build better support and community for our gifted tribe?
This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”). To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_