The Trouble With "Stupid"

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...
English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d'Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it's ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." Albert Einstein

When I was a young woman I happened to be in the Smithsonian when it was celebrating Albert Einstein's 100 birthday. It was 1979.  As I stood before the exhibits, I wondered how such a smart man could have struggled so with school. I was a teacher and I began to wonder about how I taught and what I was missing.

I am always inspired by such an awesome intellect. While I have no idea how physics works, I do know that Einstein's did spend time thinking about things that I understood. One website described him as "humble, likeable, kind, played violin and could talk to anyone. " ...and he was very quotable. He said:
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
I fell a bit in love with Albert Einstein back all those years ago. But I had not thought about him lately. Then this morning a friend sent me this cartoon in an email. Read the quote and tell me if you understand why he was saying it. His mind did not work like everyone else's did. When he was put in the classroom with material that fit everyone else, he did not succeed. He was a fish that could not climb a tree. When he talks about education he is speaking from personal experience.

Stupid is not a word I use lightly. I don't allow my grandchildren to use it ever. When the urge to swear that word outloud comes to my lips, I remember that the person I am getting ready to blast may just be different and might even be a potential Einstein. Like the fish that tried over and over to climb the tree, that person probably has not been put in the water yet.

Sadly enough, what we believe about ourselves is a self fulling prophecy. If we were told or shown that we are less than worthy, it was hard not to believe it.

Luckily Einstein managed to overcome school. They thought him retarded but his stubborn nature won and he did not buy it...not in the end. Eventually he swam in a very big ocean. We can all be thankful for that.

Any thoughts?

b+

Comments

  1. By the same token, if you're told you are a genius and have all the money you ever need to buy your way through life, you may begin to think you are a genius. That can be a slippery slope as we are witnessing now.
    b

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    1. Well, no label should go unearned. If we are talking about politics, you are so right. Thinking you are a genius in many cases can come back and bite you!

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  2. Great comment. Reality is sometimes not obvious

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    1. In the world I come from (education) this quote is one that hits very close to home. Students that are required to climb a tree and fail when they would have succeed in the water are misjudged. I suppose I am more at home in that venue.

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  3. Great quote! I often wonder how many incredibly brilliant people through the ages spent their lives as the worst farmers in town because computers had not yet been invented. I'm still waiting for the technology to be invented that will unlock my genius.

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  4. When did stupid get such a bad connotation and become one of the "swears" as the little kids say? If stupid means "given to unintelligent decisions or acts; acting in an unintelligent or careless manner" then I have certainly been guilty of such. I guess it's a matter of semantics. Call the act what you want but be careful about name-calling. What is "stupid" is applying a one-size-fits-all test to a group of individuals as depicted in the cartoon.

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    1. I don't know how that happened. But I don't believe I ever heard that word growing up. It is hurtful though when said to someone's face. And hurtful is not what we should be aiming for.

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  5. It really is a great quote, and one from which I think I can still learn a few things. A few years ago I read Walter Isaacson's excellent biography of Einstein. While I absolutely was captivated by his life (particularly his complicated relationships with women), I struggled mightily with the physics and the mathematics. In order to write a proper biography, Isaacson obviously had to delve into that subject too! There were many times while reading it that I had to go over sections more than once because I just could not wrap my head around the math. With hindsight now, this quote sort of puts all of that struggle I had at the time into a proper perspective. Great post, Barbara.

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    1. Thank you so much Marty. I love an Isaacson book but have not read Einstein. Now I want to do that.

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  6. Isn't it incredibly interesting to think about people so off the wall smart like Einstein. I think the fish analogy is perfect description of what is expected of some children.

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  7. My father used to get mad at me and call me a "stupid ninny." I thought I was for a long time, but it wasn't true. He just didn't know any better himself. :-(

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    1. I am sorry for you in that regard. But in many cases parents do things because they don't know better. Still it must have hurt. Darn.

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