Intelligence and Brilliance – Where Do We Draw the Line?


Yes, yes, I know – it has been a looong time since my last blog.  I’ve been busy – fixing up my house, which came just before Open Studios.  Then more house stuff, then a brief break followed by acting in  a short play, which is now done.  So I apologize to those of you who have written and asked when I would continue, and my answer was always, “soon.”  Soon is finally here…

This may be a bit rambly, because I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and had a lot of different angles that came up.  So I finally narrowed it down to looking at when intelligence crosses over into brilliance, and how to discriminate when calling someone “brilliant.”  A narrow topic, I know….

Intelligence, as I see it, has to do with what one does with knowledge.  You can have a lot of knowledge, or capacity, and still not be too intelligent, mostly because you don’t do anything with what you know, or with your potential.  To me the most important thing about intelligence is how it is applied, how it is used to create, to make something new, imagine a new idea.  We learn something and we build on it. That’s a real demonstration of intelligence.

Intelligence and knowledge are highly respected in this world. And in the developed world, it seems they are most respected as the means of gaining something.  Intelligence, that rare and wonderful gift humans are graced with, is often rewarded with money, fame, recognition and respectability.  Thus, it should be respected and honored most by those who possess it, and put to good use.

Lately I’ve been thinking about intelligence with regard to how we discriminate – or fail to discriminate – with regard to how intelligence is applied.  We often grant kudos to some smart people, but fail to take into consideration the effects they have created by using their intelligence.  I think it’s important that we look at this.

Take, for example, the highly intelligent (called brilliant by some) young (and some not so young) men of Wall Street, who consciously used their knowledge in order to cheat and deceive, bringing down not only the economy of the United States, but that of many other nations as well.  These men were really, really smart, but they used their intelligence and their knowledge to gain for themselves, and didn’t look once at the long term effect their actions would cause. Their knowledge was used without a thought to the destruction that would be wrought.  To me, not looking down the road at the effect one’s actions will have is not intelligent at all – it is the mark of unconsciousness.  Many people lost entire life savings, college funds for children, their homes, their futures, while these highly intelligent people were – to use their own words –  “making a killing” (an apt phrase) on Wall Street.

What a pity.  These men were – and still are, in come circles – called brilliant.  Amazing strategists.  The problem is, they were only thinking of themselves, their own gain, and not anything else. And they brought darkness into the lives of so many.  Think about what could have happened if the same very smart people had applied their knowledge, intelligence and consciousness to change the economic scene around the world for the better.  Then, in my opinion, they could be called brilliant.

I think there needs to be real discrimination when it comes to calling people “brilliant,” because brilliant to me has a completely different connotation.

What’s the difference?  Brilliance shines a light on others.  Brilliance illuminates, makes things brighter and better for everyone.  Brilliance utilizes not just intelligence, but that rare quality called wisdom.  One aspect of wisdom is the ability to use intelligence intuitively, so that the outcome is a positive one for all, not for a few.

When I think of brilliance, I think of a man like Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank.  His innovative approach to solving economic problems among the poor of Bangladesh is inspired.  And he didn’t just have the idea – he implemented it.  I think of a man like Dr. Depak Chopra, who uses his mind to illuminate the minds of others, and of architect Louis Isaac Kahn, about whom architectural teacher and critic Vincent Scully said, “Nobody ever gave off so much light.  It was a physical light that came from his imagination and the aliveness of his intellect.”

And when I think of brilliance, I also think of some of the unsung heroes in our world – those extraordinary  teachers who are so intelligent, and so bright that they shed light, not on themselves, but on their students.  The teachers who innovate, encourage, see the light inside their students, nurture it, and then send them on their way.

I know – this is probably such a narrow topic that it won’t make much difference to many, but I am really fed up with hearing people called “brilliant” when in fact they are simply really smart, but often unconscious.   I think it would be a good idea to apply the word brilliant with more discrimination, so that it comes to mean something that is tied to wisdom, and to future good.

The next time you call someone brilliant, think about whether they’re just really smart, or whether their intelligence contains within it a spark of wisdom that shines from them onto others, and whether that intelligence will affect the future by lighting the way.   Illumination is the mark of brilliance.

About Davina

I am a retired teacher, writer and artist. This web site was set up for several reasons. First is to give people a chance to see my art work, and decide if there is something they like enough to contact me. Second is to present my ideas on education and life in general - anything that gets my attention. Feel free to comment in an intelligent manner.
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One Response to Intelligence and Brilliance – Where Do We Draw the Line?

  1. Ikese says:

    Thats deep and revealing. Thanks

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