Did you know that if you search for scholarly articles that define intelligence you will find 46,200,000 of them? If you look for articles defining giftedness, you will find 7,550,000. So, it is probably appropriate that I do not write one of those. Instead, I will tell you what I have seen after working with a particular variety of highly intelligent (gifted) humans for, oh, more years than you want to know. (Let’s just say, I was in my 20’s when I started in gifted education and now I am, gulp, in my 60’s.)
The particular variety of high intelligence I know and love is, what I have called, the rainforest-minded. Not all gifted folks have the traits I will be describing and truly all rainforest-y souls are unique, complex, creative, highly sensitive,
mosquito-ish, and extraordinary. (Think jungle.) That said, there are some characteristics and issues I have seen through the years that many of these complex creatures have. And it is important to examine, understand, and explain these particularities so that the rainforest-minded can thrive. After all, they provide us with oxygen when we don’t chop them down or burn them up. Right? And, in today’s world, we need our oxygen more than ever.
People argue over the definitions (thus 7,550,000 articles) but I often find it easy to identify these folks. I mean, really. When your eight-year-old says he wants to be Richard Feynman for Halloween, do you really need more evidence than that? When your four-year old is crying over the beauty of a Mozart concerto? When your ten-year-old screams when you take away her BBC documentaries? When your six-year-old is reading Harry Potter?
And what do those behaviors reveal? Passion for learning. High levels of sensitivity and empathy. Depth and breadth in understanding advanced concepts. Early acquisition of certain skills.
And there is more. Much more: Divergent thinking, perfectionism, intuition, seeking deep meaning and spirituality, difficulty with decision-making, multiple interests and abilities, many career paths, social responsibility, making connections between seemingly unrelated objects, unending curiosity, nonstop thinking, intense emotions, driven curiosity, existential depression, anxiety, difficulty finding suitable friends and partners.
Take Ebony. Sixteen. Intense. Talks fast, thinks fast, moves fast. Asks questions no one can answer. Struggles in school: Doesn’t turn in papers that aren’t up to her standards. Procrastinates to avoid feeling like a failure if she gets less than an A. Tries to engage her classmates in some intellectual repartee when all they want is to watch Survivor. Feels a spiritual and intuitive connection to the ocean and ravens. Lonely for a friend who gets her and who has read Lord of the Rings 11 times.
Or Carlos. Forty-two. Self-taught, successful IT expert. Highly sensitive, empathetic, and emotional. Bullied in school because he preferred grasshoppers and string theory to football. Spends hours writing a three sentence e-mail. Repeats himself often in an effort to be deeply understood and to calm his anxiety. Researches for days in order to make a decision. A slower, deliberate, deep thinker and processor. Wants to learn to dance the Argentine tango so that he can finally experience being followed.
Meet Frances. Fifty-nine. After running her own children’s bookstore, raising two kids and their friends, volunteering on the board for the ballet, and remodeling her home, she is in her latest job working as a city planner. She is considering going back to school for another degree because she has always wanted to be an art therapist or a landscape architect or a stand-up comedian. She thinks she is flakey or shallow because she has walked so many different career paths. Her sense of social responsibility keeps her awake most nights. Her intuitive abilities frighten her.
Ebony, Carlos, and Frances. They are the rainforest mind variety of gifted. If you find some gifted folks who are linear-sequential thinkers, who are super competitive, who thrive in school, in the corporate world, and in more traditional environments, we love them but they are not Ebony, Carlos, or Frances. They don’t live the jungle life.
But you do. Anecdotally. Unscientifically. Absolutely.
To my bloggEEs: Do you know people who might be gifted but not rainforest-y? Do you live the jungle life? Tell us all about it. Your comments are so
lush, fertile, wet, tangled, valuable. Thank you, as always, for being here.
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