Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Social skills and intellect

I went running with a friend yesterday, a guy who has had a fascinating and successful career across a range of roles and industries -- not that he's super-rich, although he's comfortable, but that he leaps from interesting thing to interesting thing and his aura keeps getting better.

We ended up talking about kids, as guys often do, no matter what women think, and he said that his son had recently had some testing come back and that he had tested just below gifted, which he thought was perfect.  I had to think on that.  So much of my own sense of self-worth derives from having been smart, from having dominated people intellectually. I know that this isn't necessarily good, and hasn't always served me well.

And Mary and I definitely exult when our kids test well, and we praise them for it.

But my friend talked about his experience in life and how he had found over time that having good social skills was more important than being smart, about how he had figured that out working at an investment bank right out of college.

And one point he made about his test scores was that, in a high-powered school system like Chapel Hill's being placed on a gifted track put you in a more competitive pool of kids, and that social skills seemed to suffer there.  Which is very pretty good thinking.  I know that, looking back on high school from a 30-year remove, one of the things I did to myself by being in so many AP and Honors courses was to assure myself of being in a segregated classroom.  So now I know plenty of black guys from my class because I really strove to play basketball, but very few black women.  I know a lot of geeks, and am happy to know them because they are great people, but I have fairly narrow social circles.

I was also reminded of this article by Sal Khan of Khan Academy.  Encouraging academic and intellectual accomplishment can be, it seems, a double-edged sword.

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