The Curse of Middlin’ Smart

I consider myself as being “middlin’ smart”. I’m of above average intelligence. People have always told me I’m smart. I have one graduate degree and am working on another. I once considered an academic career. I speak two languages well and can muddle through in a third, which is quite an accomplishment for a ‘Merican like me.

But I am not “smart-smart”. How do I know? Because I am also complicated and arrogant. I have my share of complexes. I come across as a smart-ass, even when I don’t want to.

The smartest people I have ever met are also the simplest. Two old professors come to mind who had a tremendous capacity to simplify the complex, elucidate the obscure: they were utterly simple men. Their favorite things, respectively, were ice-cream and soccer. They had luminous minds and kind hearts. They never presumed being well known in the University. They had the capacity to look at the most commonplace phenomena with awe, and find new significance in them.

A third brilliant man, an expert in classical Greek, also comes to mind: he had a teaching post in a famous Ivy League University. He had a hard time communicating Sappho to his students, who were among the most highly recruited future leaders in the nation. In frustration he asked his class “Well, if you can’t get into Sappho what is a poem in English you like?” Not one student in this prestigious university could offer a favorite poem. He took a sabbatical to visit Africa and teach small children in mission school. The kids there asked him, “Mr. Charles, Mr. Charles, teach us English! Mr. Charles, Mr. Charles, teach us about God!” It broke his heart. He left the University and became a private tutor.

Mr. Charles loves buttered rolls.

Maybe one of the problems we have today is too many middlin’ smart people mouthing off.


  1. There’s nowhere near *enough* middlin’ smart. The idea of the “average” iq is a total crock because the difference of the low end of the average to the high end is enormous. If you dissect most discourse, what you get is essentially fairly simplistic parroting. The next time you’re having a conversation with someone and they make a statement, nudge them to see where they got it and you’ll see what I mean.

  2. When my kids were growing up, they each had a sort of “identity crisis”. It happened at different ages for each of them. I recognized the crisis when I heard statements like, “Everybody at school thinks I’m weird” or “I don’t think I’m a good person”. I’ve always thought of myself as ‘middlin smart’ and thus not capable of responding to important statements with real authority. The best response I ever mustered was, “If you’re aware that you could be wrong, you’re right.”

    The smartest people I’ve met are the ones who are genuinely surprised to learn that others value their opinions.

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