Prejudices in dealing with giftedness have been around for years. In my private practice for giftedness, I have been working very successfully since 2003 with quick-thinking children and adolescents and highly gifted adults in a wide variety of professional positions, whether specialists, executives, managers, or self-employed. Even then, I was always amazed at the prejudices and taboos that exist when dealing with giftedness, and unfortunately, these have not changed much to this day.
Perhaps you still know the movie “Life of Brian”. There’s a scene there where someone is stoned to death for saying “Jehovah.” Remember that?
Sometimes it’s still like that today when someone talks about “giftedness”—he’s not stoned outright anymore, but the reactions of other people range from uncomfortable smiling and insecurity, to not understanding giftedness, to being devalued and declared “arrogant and boastful.”
What a shame for our intellectual resources in this country!
What is giftedness, anyway?
High intelligence and giftedness are soberly considered elevated expressions of the ability to solve complex problems, to learn quickly, to think in an interconnected way and to be able to include different aspects of a topic at the same time.
If you look at the problems of our planet, the condition of our environment, the treatment of animals as well as the development of our society, one thing becomes clear: We need the abilities of highly gifted people in our lives more than ever before!
Intelligence is distributed differently. This fact cannot be denied, and no human being can help how much or how little of it he has been endowed with by nature. Indeed, all abilities are differently distributed, be it musical, artistic, athletic or emotional abilities. No human being is better or worse because of this, but both the human being himself and our society benefit if the existing abilities are used optimally and comprehensively.
What are the prejudices in dealing with giftedness?
The knowledge that another person possesses high giftedness or high intelligence often evokes envy. When I envy someone with high intelligence, what I envy is an ability they have that supposedly makes their life easier and more successful than my own. This envy of high intelligence usually operates unconsciously and leads to the reactions mentioned above. Here, even just factual clarification and making people aware of their feelings can lead to a pleasant change in interaction.
Fear of high intelligence is also a reason for many people to talk down or smile awkwardly at giftedness. The fear of being “shown up” or “tricked” by others is widespread. Especially when dealing with highly intelligent people, some often feel inferior, and the highly gifted fellow human being becomes a competitor, someone who has to be regarded critically, kept in their place or even fought against.
One more thing, on the side: “Arrogant and boastful” are mostly attributes of the small-minded people who need it—rarely the highly intelligent ones, because they rather question themselves and often still have respect for the other person…;-)
How can one address prejudices in dealing with giftedness?
- Factual education about the phenomenon “highly gifted” can help reduce existing prejudices. By no means do highly gifted people automatically have it easier in life, because intellectual potential must first be discovered and then used sensibly. People with giftedness also don’t automatically earn more money—on the contrary. Often distinctive value consciousness, modesty, and self-doubt stand in the way of highly gifted people demanding an appropriate salary for their own achievements.
- Well-founded high giftedness assessments early in childhood can help recognize existing strengths early and promote a self-confident handling of them. It’s interesting that only few people know (or want to know) about their high intelligence and about their mental abilities. Statistically, 10% of the population—about 8 million people in Germany—are highly intelligent. Children whose giftedness and other strengths are recognized and encouraged at an early age deal with it confidently and naturally as adolescents and adults. Through early giftedness diagnostics, they have the chance to become strong personalities and to employ themselves and their abilities for the benefit of the environment and society. Adults whose giftedness is recognized later have a harder time, but they still have the chance to build up their self-confidence and find faith in themselves again, in order to then lead a fulfilled, satisfied life.
- Networking of highly gifted and highly intelligent people can help us strengthen one another, come at each other with respect and understanding, and find solutions to concrete problems together. There are now some initiatives and networks for highly gifted people, with access requirements and, consequently, quality that differs markedly. If you yourself are highly intelligent or highly gifted, you can quickly recognize in which network for giftedness you can expect a certain quality and a real exchange “on equal footing.” When it’s right, the mutual understanding of the typical situations highly gifted people experience and the sense of belonging can have a very healing and beneficial effect on personal development. “Here I am human, here I’m allowed to just be…”
Dr. Karin Joder, Giftedness Assessment, Coaching & Networking for the Highly Gifted and Neurodiverse