Why is it that so many people with high IQ's seem to lack common sense? I personally know a great many intellectuals who have a difficult time managing even the simplest day-to-day affairs.

The above question was sent to me by an old friend...a friend who was a frequent guest at events sponsored by the local chapter of an international high IQ group. As a long-time member of the same, I have to admit she has a point. In fact, I just returned from giving a talk at that organization's World Gathering of Geniuses in Orlando, Florida where Dumb Things Smart People Do was among the more popular topics. One woman told of the time her husband tooted at a trashcan that rolled in front of his car.

Of course, such lapses of common sense happen to everyone but they tend to stand out when brilliant minds are involved. Some of the teasing that typically follows smart people doing dumb things is probably an effort to level the field. Being around someone you feel has superior mental abilities can be very intimidating. It's like talking to a teacher of English and realizing you just ended a sentence with a preposition. The odd thing is that while our society shamelessly idolizes those who can put a ball through a hoop, anyone who solves quadratic equations for fun is seen as fair game. Such bias is a result of dealing with the unknown - which is always a scary situation. While the athlete excels at the obvious, the genius has incomprehensible and thus potentially threatening talents. Alas, Americans in general have always had a difficult time dealing with those they see as Brainiacks and Eggheads. An unfortunate result of this is that the U.S. now ranks 16th among industrialized nations on tests of Scholastic Aptitude.

There is also the problem of underemployment. This refers to individuals with stratospheric IQ's who find themselves in minimum wage positions. One reason for this is that a manager with just an average head on his shoulders is probably not going to want to hire anyone he thinks might make him look less than competent on the job. Bosses have feelings too. And also, if the company is, in fact, run in a less than competent fashion, an employee with ideas on how to do things more effectively may well be seen as more of a nuisance than a benefit. Change, even for the better, is usually seen as a stressing prospect.

But should you be getting the idea that high IQ folks are altogether blameless when they wind up facing dead-end life paths and career choices, be assured that this is not always the case. Some savants do indeed contribute to their coming out looking like idiots. This is because growing up with a superior brain can be seen as more of a handicap than an advantage. Strange as it may seem, young children sometimes see such a gift as a shortcoming; making them standout and appear weird. Then too, because their interests are apt to vary from those more typical of their age-mates, they aren't always accepted with open arms. All this can lead to adults who exhibit poorly developed social skills with a tendency towards condescending superiority specifically and a history of maladaptive behavior generally.

Look At It This Way

Genius, it seems, can be a double-edged sword. Dumping such a benefaction on a raw youngster can hopelessly disrupt the more normal maturation process and result in an infantile oldster who's just too smart for his own good.

About the Author

Stephen Mason

Stephen B. Mason is a psychologist, a former university professor, syndicated newspaper columnist and radio talk-show host.

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