What does "smart" mean?
People have been telling me my whole life that I am smart. What does that mean?
I generally blow off the compliment, abruptly and ungraciously. Really, the whole concept tends to make me pretty angry.
It seems to me that what they usually mean by 'smart' is that one has accomplished some thing that is admirable--a passing grade on a test, proper use of a long word, successful completion of a degree, tenure in some sort of academic exercise, attendance at some sort of prestigious function.
Those are just...things. Events. Activities.
Someone recently told me, "I've never met a stupid lawyer." I laughed long and hard at that; some of the stupidest, most short-sighted and awful people I have ever known are attorneys. Intelligence or usefulness is no prerequisite for that career, nor any other one. It is merely a way of thinking, a route to travel, and a language to speak. Foreign to many, but not inherently incomprehensible.
To me, actual, valuable intelligence is about listening, not just hearing. It is about paying attention, not just temporarily storing and then later regurgitating facts. It is the permanent state of being curious: wanting to know more, about what was said (whether in a classroom, one on one in conversation, or even in passing or in media, etc.), or about what they saw (in a book, the newspaper, out the window, on television, while walking around the neighborhood), or about how something works (physically, logistically, spiritually, emotionally, practically), or about why something happened, or about what they can do.
Some of the smartest people I know barely graduated from high school--and have made the most of their lives. Some of the smartest people I know have earned a Ph.D. from prominent universities--and have put their education to good use.
The same goes for some of the least functional, self-sufficient, capable people I have known.
"Smart" does not mean much to me.
[the title quotation is by Dejan Stojanovic, from The Sun Watches the Sun]