Every month or so, the screw that holds together the three pieces that make up the filter on my beloved French press becomes loose, which causes them to disband. The first time this happened I thought my French press was dead and subsequently moped for hours.
Before I could fully despair, my friend Lee put it back together with a very simple procedure which involved spinning the screw to the right and the nut to the left. Astounding.
The second time it happened, I felt prepared. I knew how to fix it. But though I tried, I could not get the screw to tighten. Finally, through pure luck, I got the three parts to stay together as a team.
The third time, I watched a video, which looked as simple as Lee had made it look, but only succeeded in making me feel incredibly dumb. Then, having studied in my father’s school of dealing with things that don’t work immediately, I boiled to a near tantrum of illegal proportions. So many times growing up I saw my dad try to put together something (a ceiling fan, a coat rack, toys) which inevitably propelled him into a fury that would cause the neighbors to fear lives had been lost.
Similarly, I embarked upon a frustration that danced along the treeline of meltdown temper tantrum. I believe that my vision blurred with anger, or extremely dangerously high blood pressure.
Burke, listening to my increasing insanity from the couch, finally offered to help, and in exasperation I handed it to her. My dad would not have done that, because the only thing he liked less than not being able to fix or put together something was letting someone else take a crack at it. Even if you had been enlisted into service on a Saturday afternoon, you were in no way, shape, or form to touch any of the pieces or tools. The unspoken contract you had agreed to stated that your job was to watch, feel uncomfortable as his anger grew, and occasionally get him a soda.
I was pleasantly surprised and mystified when, just as quickly as Lee had, Burke fitted it together with no signs of a struggle. Then she gave me a look, and it’s a look we both knew as the one I sometimes give her when she talked about how she planned a lesson or what she had written in an email. It’s a look that conveys:
How do you not know how to do this?
Like many people, I have long felt that we are all Differently Intelligent. Still, a concrete example in real life is nonetheless surprising. Of course, I am not really talking about the result of a studied field or skills training. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t enlist my dentist to replace a carburetor or ask a plumber to take out an abscessed molar. I am talking more about the inherent intelligences that people have.
While Lee and Burke might have high spatial intelligence, I might be more linguistically intelligent. So they can fix my French press or visualize an art project for students, while I can barely open a bottle of aspirin without requiring a Band-aid. On the other hand, everyday situations inspire humorous and creative ideas in me and I seem to possess an instinctive handle on how to use words to convey thoughts. My dad is a scientific genius and the exact dude you’d want yanking out that abscessed molar, but not putting together your ceiling fan.
There’s the old Einstein quote that has become clichéd: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” If you are a teacher you have experienced some variation of this pithy quote first hand. The best non-native speaker of English I have ever known is a low-level secretary. One of the worst language students I have ever taught builds airplanes in his free time and then flies in them to other places.
To be sure, there is no small amount of debate on this question of “What is intelligence?” I would put money on the fact that you know people differently intelligent than you? Some schools of thought list the number of intelligences at 9, including verbal-linguistic, naturalistic, intra-personal, logical-mathematical, and spatial.
Despite the debate, perhaps we should broaden our definition of intelligence so as to more openly encourage people to follow paths that might suit their natural talents. Maybe we are simply encouraging the wrong paths for out-dated or even selfish reasons. Perhaps by thinking outside the box (a box I can’t fully picture as a spatial twit), we could encourage people to go into fields that interest them rather than pushing them through a liberal arts education they don’t want in order to spend a life in a cubicle doing a job they are apathetic about.
At the very least, I’d love it if someone could just come to my house and fix my French press filter from time to time.