If You Are Smart

From the Desk of Ethan Holmes

If you’re taking time to read the honor’s blog, I’m going to assume for a moment that you, yourself, or those around you, count you among a certain group of students, which I will affectionately refer to as nerds (myself: one among that crowd). Cool? Cool. Now the thrust of this jumble of words:

If someone tells you that you are smart, do not listen.

Brilliant, genius, inspired, whatever it is, don’t listen. It won’t help. What does Ethan not mean by this: ignore the person complimenting you and/or blow off the comment—goodness me, be gracious! But don’t let words of praise set too deeply in your heart of hearts. (This is the best advice I have in the meager store I keep.) Understand, the manner of living that you, as a nerd, must maintain in order to garner comments on your perceived ‘brilliance’ is reliant on you being humble enough in recognition of your abilities (which would be a mistake to consider as anything other than gifts from God) to do the work few other people are willing to do. To claim intelligence as a trait inherent to you will hurt yourself. I have a study to prove it.

In this study, a set of 412 fifth grade school children were asked to take a test. No matter how well the children did, they were told they did well. One group of kids were told “you must be smart,” while the others were told, “you must have worked hard at these problems. They were then given a second test in which, no matter their performance, they were told they didn’t do as well. The kids told that they were smart blamed a “lack of ability” on their part (the study includes that they reported that they did not enjoy the second test as much), while the others said that it was due to their lack of effort. When both groups were then given a choice of tests to take, the children told that they were intelligent chose assignments they knew that they could do well, and the others chose assignments that they would be challenged by. Two conclusions I and the people running the study took from this:

1)      The students told “you are smart” were focused on the positive reinforcement, feeling good about being called ‘smart’ again, adversely affecting their performance.

2)      The students admired for their hard work, were directed to and focused on the actual process; their focus was turned on how they were working as opposed to an outcome.

Older, maybe wiser, probably less enamored with life, all of us are still those little kids. We are vulnerable to falling into the trap of desiring to meet other’s expectations instead of simply serving as God calls us. As nerds, if we are able to focus on our work and put to use the gifts we know that we’ve been given, we will be able to do far more—and do far more within healthy limits—than if we are constantly looking for someone to reassure us that we are, indeed, still worthy of the title “smart.” The comportment of a servant demands a selfless giving our powers to others’ needs. We must focus on the work that needs to be done to properly serve; praise that comes out of that is, more often than not, a distraction. Don’t get distracted. Don’t be smart. Just do good work.

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