Cursed Brilliance

While I try to keep my blog lighthearted and full of fun banter, it’s sometimes difficult to be like that when I read news about brilliance coming to nought.
This morning, I read about Math prodigy Sufiah Yusof whom according to a report, has now turned to prostitution. What saddened me most was the last line in the report “…her gift has been a curse”.
When I turned to tell Nic this, he simply said that being gifted and being a genius was as bad as being on the other extreme of the intellectual scale. It is an abnormality because having a high IQ doesn’t mean one automatically becomes great in all spheres of life. Life is truly tough for those whose intellectual giftedness borders on superhuman ability.
Look at the Malaysian boy genius – Chiang Ti Ming who passed away in 2007. He had so much going for him.
Parents often wished their kids were mini Einsteins. Be careful what you wish for. Mini Einsteins may not find this world a pleasure to live in. It can be torturous for them – this world can be too slow, too mundane, too uninspiring. Most times, it consists of too much pressure from all sides.
It’s something close to my heart for 2 reasons: my original thesis probed the problems of the intellectually gifted (in this country) and that Nic is certified as having high IQ.
I didn’t start off researching the problems of the intellectually gifted if it were not for a paper I took under a very sharp professor in 2003. Everyone in my MA class freaked out when they heard HE was teaching one of our required papers (he will criticize anyone anywhere and you best run if he opens his mouth and shoots bullets at you). He started by giving us specific titles to write our term papers on. I got the one on intellectually gifted!
Looking back, that’s how I got more and more involved and finally I decided to write my thesis with this acerbic professor as my supervisor. Of course, that deepened my interest in the problems of the gifted – you’d think the gifted, the smart, the brilliant minds have life easy and super. Nope, they have more issues than you and I put together AS A RESULT of their intellectual capacities.
Hard to believe, right? It’s a cursed gift. Anything or anyone not “normal” is ostracized. They lead lonely lives because no one can see the world as they see the world.
When Nic commented in all seriousness that being a genius is a cursed thing, I believe with wholeheartedness that it is true. The world is meant for regular/normal human beings who aren’t too smart or too stupid. The smart ones find it tough to live life. And yes, the people who live with the high IQ people also find it tough and intimidating sometimes.
Brilliance feeds and lives in its own environment. Children with high IQ may not be suited for the world of mediocrity.
Too fast, too much, too soon. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking to read of genuises gone to waste. For it could have been so much more.
Is it a curse or a blessing?
Sometimes the answer’s not too clear.

17 thoughts on “Cursed Brilliance”

  1. Sufiah’s story is certainly more to do with her father rather than her intelligence. Her father’s abusive background and general all round character isn’t the best thing for a growing child to see and I think this was more of a contributive factor to her situation now rather than her high IQ. Children with a high/low/medium IQ need supportive parents who can guide their child so that they happy with themselves and the world around them.
    Can I for once disagree with you on this topic? I’ve tried to look for evidence in your blog on why life is harder if you have a high IQ but don’t see anything I can point to in particular.
    My wife says that it is how you view life. If you pressure yourself because you have a high IQ then that’s your problem. She reckons you should be satisfied with who you are and if you have put the best effort into whatever you’ve been doing then you should be happy with that.

  2. Hi d: Of course you can disagree. 😉 That makes life more fun and helps me “see” the other side of my argument. You know why it’s tougher if one has a high IQ? Because high IQ folks really do think differently – they seek patterns and consistencies in their daily lives while we normal people (with regular IQs) just pass through life “missing” these patterns! For instance, high IQ people usually get upset with everyday life because regular folks don’t ‘get it’. We, regular people don’t get it because we’re not seeing what they see. Their thinking processes are faster too – my guess is their synapses fire faster. High IQ people cannot be satisfied with what they are because they have different expectations of life and of course, people around them. Hmm, I know some pretty high IQ people (all these mingling with Mensans!) and I can vouch that while appearance-wise, they look normal but once it comes to thinking etc, they really are quicker! They get highly peeved too if you can’t see the ‘simple solution’ that’s right in front of one’s eyes. Like a PhD holder in Math trying to explain Math to a secondary school student…. that sort of difference in thought levels and sophistication.

  3. Can I pick up on this key sentence: High IQ people cannot be satisfied with what they are because they have different expectations of life and of course, people around them.
    Surely then, they have to adjust themselves for a more realistic expectations of life. For example whilst I do my best for the environment around me (rubbish, littering etc), I can accept realistically that not everyone will be like this and most people won’t give two hoots about rubbish. It’s not nice, I don’t like it but it’s something I have to accept.
    I’ve learnt in my short time as football coach (where I am of a better level to the average people) that there are of people with different abilities (some better, some worse) and different viewpoints. You teach people who are teachable, discuss with those who are willing to discuss and learn to live with the ones you don’t do either of the following!
    Alternatively you can just hang around with people at your level (re: thinking, football, whatever) and only talk to them (a la Mensa) and stuff the majority of society!
    Anyway back to watching Contender replay! (I suspect this conversation will run for a little longer!)

  4. In my opinion, it’s not that life is harder for brilliant people. It’s just that ‘average people’ put a crimp on the lives of brilliant people because they’re so slow to grasp things, and that upsets the geniuses (who just can’t help spotting hidden patterns). At least that’s how I imagine it.
    Having said that, I also think you’re right about the sexually abusive father turning Sufiah into the person she is. Think Michael Jackson.

  5. Hi Diz: Yes, point well put across. I guess it’s like asking, is the glass half empty or half full? Which perspective one takes influences how we explain why brilliant people find life difficult. I’m no Mensa material (at least logically haha) but I can understand why life presents so many problems to them. The world caters to the average person, like it or not. And pattern-spotting smarties cannot understand for the life of them why no one can see the patterns they see…. I live with a Mensan so I know why they get frustrated plus I get frustrated too because I cannot “see” what they seem to see so effortlessly!

  6. i think extraordinary anything is a destiny and a responsibility. One should realise that and utilize the gift to serve in whatever way she or he knows best.i guess not knowing the avenue for one’s talent can be pretty damaging for the protagonist and a waste of human energy for the human kind or for all living things in general. Instead of feeling a sense of frustrations, why don’t they direct the energy towards worthy causes that help the less fortunate or make a difference to those helpless creatures that do not have means to help themselves? Is it not true that , in the end, it is the salvation for the gifted? or the salvation for anyone for that matter. Is it not true that those who help save others end up saving themselves?

  7. Hi d: Thanks for the link (and she does have a gorgeous body! Ok now everyone’s going to run to that website to see how that sweet, demure thing looks like). After reading about what Sufiah thinks, I think while we all lament the fact she’s a smart hooker, it’s basically her life. If anything, the news about her will probably bring her more clients! No such thing as negative publicity. Look what happened to that high class hooker in the New York mayor’s case. Her MySpace hits went through the roof when news broke.
    Hi Tze: The problem with being extraordinary is that we heap lots of responsibility on them. Like superheros, they feel they ought to save the world even when they sometimes feel like they’re not even up to saving themselves. Which is why I say, pity the geniuses. They really live in a different zone from us regular home sapiens. While it is true for some that saving others means saving themselves, Sufiah has had it hard. I mean, getting into Oxford at 13? That’s enough pressure to kill anyone, even for someone smart like her. Added to that, the guilt of not performing and having your parents’ hopes on you like a brick, well, I guess that made her run the other direction and instead of being the good (Muslim) girl that she is, she becomes the exact opposite!

  8. Great minds think alike. I wrote something about the news earlier too and I am, too, saddened by how she has decided to live her life. But I don’t know. Is the world really made for mediocre people? I don’t know….

  9. Geniuses or ‘super-humans’/mediocre or normal; they all have something in common. We are bleed the same. Once injured, the colour of our blood is of the same colour. A friend once commented; “A highly-educated person” is not the same as a ‘well-educated’ person. And this friend actually taught classes for special need children.. children are mentally-challenged. She should be right in saying that through her years of exposure and experience dealing with this group of children. No matter which category a person belong to, the perception to course through life would be, “I reckoned myself to be like a tiny speck of sand on the beach” and the Universe is zillion times bigger. Put it in a nutshell, societal norms do put unnecessary pressure on the mentally endowned but end of the day, it is the happiness that counts

  10. I found this blog by searching for the terms “why are people so slow IQ” and found it stimulating enough to want to comment. I’m one of those surfers at the front of the IQ graph and agree wholeheartedly with the term “cursed brilliance”. For the readers who don’t get just how different the world is, spend a week in the company of people with an IQ around 70 (30 below average) and come back and tell us how easy it is to join their society and be happy.
    Note: it isn’t just societal pressure that causes problems, it’s personal as well: Quite difficult to be content when you know you’re wasting your ablities.

  11. Hi Kate: Yes, in the end we are all searching for happiness. And while we say we should NEVER judge others by the standards we hold ourselves accountable, most people never remember that! We often pass judgments and freely too. And the silly thing is, we in Malaysia like to ‘jaga tepi kain orang’ by wanting to save ‘poor Sufiah’. Why can’t we let her be and let her live her own life?
    Hi Jules: I agree. We think that the smarter people are, the MORE they should be happy and do lots MORE for others. My husband is a Mensan and I can tell you it is NOT easy living with someone who is powered by Intel while I am powered by Celeron! I am not kidding. His thought patterns are so much faster, and while I don’t think I am stupid I can understand why the high IQ folks are annoyed most times by inane comments from the regular IQ people (just like your example, we regular people should go live with those with lower IQs and see how WE take it). Of course it’s relative…. if you’re a genius in a roomful of geniuses, well, that’s not too bad. But a genius amongst those who are not…. Imagine asking Shumacher to drive at 50 km per hour when he can zoom from KL to Pg in less than an hour!

  12. Hi,
    I’ve got a high IQ, and it kills me inside. I see the world rotting away. I hate everyone for being so blind, and myself for not shouting out against most everyone for most everything they do. I cry a lot. I only find solace, in deep meditation and online discussions with other gifted people. I try so hard to get my points across to my friends. They never listen. Then after whatever it was comes to fruition they so oh yeah man, you were right after all! This happens over and over. Drives me insane. I don’t know that I can live like this much longer. I’m actually looking forward to the mass chaos that will be likely in America come next month or so. People will be waking up real quick.
    I’m much quicker in most things and incredibly slow at some because I’m processing every angle instead of being one sided. I’m a leftie. Dunno what else to say except it sucks most not having anyone around who can share my interests. I’m too shy and nearly agrophobic from my interactions with people up to this point. I don’t see the point in working at a job that requires me to be slow, dumb, compacent, etc, or else be looked at like a freak, so I’m unemployed. Grhhh…enough….Don’t want to think about this anymore. On the whole, people suck as of now. There are few individuals that are worth my time, and I mean that with the utmost sincerity.

  13. Hi Brandon: Thank you for commenting and sharing your perspective. It is good of you to share your feelings. At least people will stop taking the gifted for granted and expecting them to be supermen and superwomen. You see, being gifted means you are good at certain things and NOT everything as most people assume. But you don’t get sympathy from regular folks for being smart. In fact they think you should be happy and contented you got more than you bargained for and that God was kind enough to bestow you with high IQ. Not so accurate really. The teenagers I spoke to (when I was interviewing them for my thesis) were all bored of school – lessons too simple, they didn’t feel stimulated enough and some turned to truancy to get a high. They didn’t mean to, and they don’t mean to interrupt the teacher and they get chastised for being ‘too smarty pants’ and of course in school, that either means you get unpopular!

  14. Hey Maya,
    I randomly found you through Google and found this so interesting. Do you have any recommendations for resources/authors on this, and is your thesis publicly available?

    • Hi leilani
      Thanks. My thesis is only available at the library of Universiti Sains Malaysia. As for resources, you can try looking up Howard J. Gardner (very much quoted on his books on multiple intelligences). If you are keen to know about the autistic, there is a movie made about Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who designs humane systems for cattle. She’s quite a genius too but in an extremely alternative way.


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