After the Fact: Unconventional wisdom


Good writing is like great art: there are some masterpieces that simply take your breath away. It resonates with something that’s personal to you and may be entirely lost on someone else. Sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes prose but I’ve had as many memorable moments from those Burma Shave highway signs as from any of the “classics” we had to read in high school or college.

In fact, I know I learned infinitely more about life from Winnie the Pooh than from Jane Eyre. Obviously, many others are of the same opinion. I’ve seen more quotes from the characters in the Milne books on Facebook, in greeting cards and on posters than anything from the romance novels by the sisters Bronte.

For undeniable wisdom, I give you “Drunk drivers/don’t you know/great bangs/from little/binges grow” (Burma Shave). And “A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.” (Winnie the Pooh). My friend Dimas Chavez tells a story about his Uncle Tivy from Torreon, NM who could recite hundreds of “folk sayings” from memory.  One such was “Al que madruga, Dios le ayuda.”  If flows better in Spanish, but loosely translates to “God will help those who get up early.” You’d probably recognize it better as “the early bird gets the worm.”

Not long ago, I took an on-line quiz purporting to sift the wheat from the chaff: only those with an I.Q. higher than 143, they said, could answer all of the questions. The entire test was “filling in the blanks” to ages-old sayings, as “Imitation is the sincerest form of (blank).” For each, three choices were given as a possible correct answer. In this case, it’s “flattery.” Unless you’ve hidden your light (and your head) under the bushel basket, there’s no way you could miss more than one or two, and I don’t believe there are that many geniuses interested in on-line quizzes. Mike Wisdom, formerly of Development Resource Group, undoubtedly isn’t sitting around waiting for the next little test to tell him that he’s smart. I think he’s known that for a while.

Occasionally, I’d run into Mike in town and could join him for coffee. It was a real workout to keep up with his conversation: I believe his mind moves at the speed of light.  After leaving the restaurant, I’d have to take my month’s allowance of aspirin. 

I’m continually amazed at the number of exceptionally bright people I meet who have no clue how smart they are. It reminds me of my aforementioned friend Dimas, who was told his understanding of English was not up to standards for graduation from high school. Fortunately, his mother supported his decision to not stay in school an extra year, and he went on to graduate from college. And held highly prestigious positions in government agencies during his life (so far), traveling to almost every country on the planet, retiring, finally, from the CIA.

We lose the potential of many a great mind because we don’t appreciate how much they really know or don’t know how to measure genius except with I.Q. tests. The schools I attended were enthralled with testing and, for the kids, it was just another excuse to not go to class, on a par with a fire drill, so my opinion may be jaded. While Einstein didn’t fail math in school, he didn’t read until he was 7 and “special education” is just that: education for the very special students who may, in their time, compose a concerto, paint a masterpiece, write the Great American Novel or be the first to travel to the future where we’ll know how to recognize great minds without silly tests on social media.

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