Being an intellectual versus being intellectual

6 08 2007

It’s quite a broad subject and everyone has their own definition of what being an intellectual entails. And I personally think about this question a lot more than most around me realize, although not usually in this exact structure.

Uniformly, the stereotype of an intellectual has a stuffy connotation, quoting long passed philosophers and laughing at each others’ brilliantly formed intellectual riffs.

At its essence, the distinction is largely nature versus nurture. Are you born with the innate ability to reason or do you acquire it through practice?

Where strong willed, Type A personalities are required, egos run rampant. It’s prevalent in Hollywood and it’s prevalent in Silicon Valley and it’s prevalent in New York, although each would separately argue that their version of vanity serves a higher purpose than the others.

Yet, an ego is most often a necessity of the job. Greatness is served by confidence in your greatness, a willingness to give it your all, that you can not fail, you will not fail. It’s not one-sided: people then again like to see some humility in their greatest minds, athletes, artists and leaders.

My objection comes in when “intellects” see intellectualism as being about winning the argument, not about helping yourself first, and others second, see the world as it really is from a full 360 degree view. It’s not always possible, but it’s certainly the goal.

It’s really just greed that drives this kind of intellectualism. Yet to me it’s really the worst kind of greed because it doesn’t cost you anything to be understanding, empathetic. This is not a zero sum game. It’s my little definition of being an intellectual instead of being intellectual. The best intellectualism looks outward. It looks at the outside world, appreciates it, then contributes its own small (or big) way.

And this isn’t supposed to be a rant. For I think I’m pleasantly surprised much, much more than I’m violently disappointed in people, but ultimately I think that’s served by the type of people I like to surround myself with. From great professors to great leaders to great family to just great people, I find that default nature is a kind one, a giving one. I look to keep it that way.

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