Paris Andrew, TIP’s Director of Partnerships and Engagement, is here to help gifted students. She used to run the residential programming at TIP’s educational programs, and she is completing a PhD in related areas, so she knows what she’s talking about.
What makes certain people smart? How come those people are smarter than others?
—The A Man
Dear The A Man,
What a deceptively simple question! I think there’s a lot more to your question than meets the eye. I also think it’s impossible to answer the question as succinctly as you posed it!
First off, there’s no denying that intelligence and genetics are intertwined. I’m no expert on the matter, but I think it’s safe to say that intelligence is inheritable, to one degree or another. In others words, you get it from your mother and father, they got it from your grandparents, and so forth and so on.
Genetics only tells part of the story, of course. Environmental factors play a large role as well—how readily available learning resources are for you, how well you eat, how well you sleep, and other such considerations.
Even though both your genes and your environment have a lot to do with how smart you are, it’s not as though having intelligence is an either/or, on/off trait. Intelligence is not something you either have or don’t have. Rather, it’s something that everyone has in different ways, to different extents, and with different practical outcomes. It’s also something that gets measured in lots of different ways, gets defined in lots of different ways, and shows up in lots of different ways.
Don’t discount your intelligence. Don’t hide it. Don’t think you haven’t done anything to earn it. Being smart is something to take pride in, so long as you’re not prideful. The smartest person in the world—if it’s even possible to determine who that is—surely can’t understand every last complex concept or solve every last problem that exists!
No matter how your genetics and environment have helped determined your intelligence up to this point, remember that it’s more or less up to you to keep your smarts in good shape. It’s something you have to exercise. There is no limit to how smart you can become. Nor is there any limit to what you can do with your smarts. Your IQ is just a number. Use your smarts to make the world better.
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