Note to the reader: This is the first of three articles about intelligence, in the fullest sense. What is intelligence? Is it fixed, or can it be improved? In this article, we introduce the topic by asking the question: what would it mean to be fully human?
Being Fully Human
We admire tigers and wolves and falcons and dolphins, and many other creatures. They are often graceful and elegant. They are “natural”, and we know what we mean by this, even if we cannot define it exactly.
They are able to survive in difficult situations, without any of the comforts and supports that we take for granted. They are invariably ecological, living in balance with each other and the planet. Apart from the relatively few who are injured, or very old, or suffering from lack of food, they are all in perfect health. And within the limitations of who they are, they behave intelligently.
All this is obvious when we observe them. And it is surely significant that, when we speak of “tiger nature” or “dolphin nature”, or about the nature of any other creature, we have something admirable in mind, possibly a kind of perfection.
In contrast, when we speak about “human nature”, we seem to have imperfection in mind. We believe that it is human nature to be flawed, to make mistakes, to behave less than perfectly.
How different it is for all other creatures! If they were flawed, if they made mistakes on the scale that we do, if they behaved as imperfectly as we do, they would soon be in serious trouble.
If large numbers of them were not in perfect health, and did not act intelligently and ecologically, they would soon cease to exist.
- Why, then, do we make ourselves the sole exceptions?
- Why are so many of us not in perfect health?
- How many of us can truly say that we are in good shape, fit, and free from any physical, mental or emotional health problems?
- Why is truly wise, intelligent behaviour the exception for us, and not the rule?
- And why do so few of us live ecologically, in harmony with each other and the planet?
It would take a long time to answer these questions fully, because there are so many factors. However, two things spring to mind.
First, we have become very dependent on technology. This has had the unintended consequence of making us “soft”, and not as healthy and self-reliant and “natural” as we could be. If you doubt this, then just imagine doing without your car for a month or spending a week or more camping alone in the wilderness.
Once you adjusted to the change, you would almost certainly become healthier, more self-reliant, more ecological and, in some senses, more intelligent. In short, you would become more fully human.
While I accept that it may not be easy to be without your car or to get away on your own, I do think that this would bring benefits that far outweigh any sense of sacrifice.
A second reason that we are not being fully human is that, as a society, we are obsessed with economic growth. Although it is rarely stated explicitly, this has effectively become the central purpose of most countries and most governments.
Economic growth is often assumed to be a universal panacea, the eventual solution to all our problems. While it is true that some growth is needed for those people who do not even have the basics of food, water, shelter and warmth, the fact is that too many of us have too much and consume too much.
The last thing the planet needs is even more growth. The damaging effects of endless economic growth on society and the environment hardly need stating. It is putting unsustainable pressures on individuals, communities and the planet. In all kinds of ways this prevents us from being fully human.
One thing is clear. Any species where large numbers are in less than perfect health, where unintelligent behaviour is widespread, and which, as a collective, does not live ecologically, is not going to survive forever, even with the cushion of technology.
Our current ways of living and organising our affairs are simply unsustainable. The question is: what are we going to do about it? When faced with this question, my own response has been to ask how we can become more fully human, just as tigers are fully tigers and dolphins are fully dolphins.
We can express this question another way: how can we become as intelligent as we are capable of being? This is the central question of our times because, if we fail to become more intelligent, then any human future can only be, at best, a perpetual repair job. If you are still unsure what I mean by “intelligent”, let me say a few words about Forrest Gump.
If you have seen the film, you will know that Forrest’s haircut and his slow way of speaking, and his name, were all designed to create the impression that he was not very intelligent. Indeed, early on the film, Forrest mentions the word “stupid”. He said that his mother had told him that “Stupid is as stupid does.” You will also remember that, although he was an unsophisticated man, Forrest was anything but stupid.
On the contrary, his simplicity, honesty and directness led him to do noble, intelligent things that helped a lot of people. The thing that most struck me about Forrest was that he never did anything bad. His example shows us that we do not need to be “clever” or “brainy” to be intelligent. We just have to behave well.
Being “intelligent”, in the conventional sense, is no guarantee that we will behave well. All of us can think of examples of “intelligent” people, in public life and in our own private circles, who behave badly or stupidly. Forrest’s mother could equally have said that “intelligent is as intelligent does.”
For me, this last phrase captures the essence of intelligence. It is about how we actually behave. It is about our words and actions in practice. There is no point in being intelligent in theory! If you behave wisely and well, you are intelligent. If you do not, you are not.
At this point I could give you a few definitions of intelligence. But I am not sure that would help.
Intelligence is something you have to feel your way into. If you know yourself well, you will know whether you are intelligent or not. I would like to describe a woman I know. Ask yourself whether you have anything in common with her.
Although I know her well, I am impressed each time I meet her. There is something compelling about the way she looks, the way she speaks, and even the way she moves. She feels very natural, very human. She is economical in her use of energy, just as all other creatures are. They have to be because they do not have supermarkets to provide them with food. They have to go looking for it every single day, so they have to conserve their energy.
My friend is so economical with her energy that she seems to be able to get things done without really trying. And it is reassuring to have her around because she always knows what to do when something goes wrong. I feel good when I am in her company because she is cheerful and friendly, but also because she seems to understand me at least as much as I understand myself.
- If we were able to look inside intelligent people, we would see that they are acutely sensitive to the world around them.
- They notice a lot and miss very little. We would also see that they are masters of their feelings and are able to empathise with the feelings of others.
- They have exceptionally good minds, which enable them to think clearly and see why things are the way they are.
- So they understand things better than most of us.
- They have learned to trust and use their intuition, and they have managed to transcend many of the conventions and beliefs that often hold us back.
- They are very obviously mentally and emotionally intelligent, but it goes far beyond that.
- Everything about them is intelligent.
- We have a sense that everything they do and say makes the world a better place.
- When they walk into a room, it becomes brighter. Perhaps it is significant that they seem to have ascended to a higher order childhood.
- They are wise, mature adults, but they have lost none of the spontaneity, playfulness and wonder of children.
You may have noticed something about the description of my friend. Although I mentioned her mental qualities, I did not stop there. I described the whole range of her qualities, and I did this because intelligence is about the whole of you. It covers all aspects of you – the physical, the mental, the emotional, but other aspects, too, such as the intuitive, the social and the spiritual.
You almost certainly know something about mental intelligence, and you have probably heard of emotional intelligence. But do you know anything about physical intelligence, or intuitive intelligence, or social intelligence, or spiritual intelligence? Taken together, these six forms of intelligence cover the many different ways we think, feel and behave. I think of them as the full spectrum of intelligence. It might be helpful to say a few words about them.
The best-known form is undoubtedly mental intelligence. I define this as “having a good mind, and using it well”. Thinking of it this way has the advantage of telling us that there are two components – the state of your mind, and the way you use it. It follows from this that, if you want to become more mentally intelligent, you need to improve the state of your mind, and you also need to improve the way you use it. To assess how mentally intelligent you are, you simply have to ask yourself a few questions. For example, is your mind clear and uncluttered? Do you have a strong mind, able to concentrate, and able to stand its ground under pressure? How well do you use it? For example, are you able to solve and avoid problems? Do you communicate effectively? Do you create useful things and ideas?
Emotional intelligence has become relatively well-known. Although it has been defined in many ways, I prefer to think of it as “knowing feelings, and managing them well.” As you can see, this also has two components: knowing and managing. This tells us what we need to work on.
Intuitive intelligence can be defined as “knowing without knowing how you know.” All of us have intuitive experiences, probably more often than we realise. But because we live in times with a strong emphasis on the need for concrete evidence and rational explanations, we do not rely on our intuition as much as we could. That is a pity because it can give us access to useful information that we would otherwise miss or ignore. Intuition is not a “gift” available only to the few. It is available to all of us, and there are many things we can do to improve it and use it more effectively.
Social intelligence has also become quite well known in recent years. There are many ways of understanding it. The one I like best is Karl Albrecht’s definition: “the ability to get along well with others, and to get them to cooperate with you.” I would add only one small thing – it is also about getting other people to cooperate with each other. Good social intelligence surely has to rank as one of the top skills for any manager or leader, indeed for all of us.
Perhaps you have heard of spiritual intelligence, but you are not sure what it is. If so, you are not alone, and this is because there are so many different opinions. I have my own definition, which is based on what we will be looking at in the next article, “the intelligence process”. I define spiritual intelligence as “the ability to go beyond normal awareness, normal understanding and normal behaviour.”
There is another important form of intelligence. I call it physical intelligence, and I define it as “knowing your body, knowing through your body, and using it wisely and effectively”. In my view, it is the foundation of all the other intelligences because it is about basic awareness through your five senses, and about your ability to respond effectively to anything, by using your body.
Although I have described the six intelligences as if they were separate from each other, this is simply for convenience. In reality, they are not separate. They are intimately connected to each other, as if they were a single “super-intelligence”.
For example, when you exercise your body, by going for a run or doing a workout, you usually feel better afterwards, and you often find that you can think more clearly.
Working on your physical intelligence has enhanced both your emotional and your mental intelligence.
When things are going well at work, and everybody is cooperating with each other and with you (social intelligence), other aspects of your life seem to go more smoothly.
When you work on any one of your intelligences, all the others are enhanced in some way.
However, the converse is also true. If any of your intelligences is in poor shape, this will tend to drag down all the others. Just think about how things are when you feel low. Nothing goes well. You cannot think clearly (mental). You cannot relate well (social and emotional). And you have no energy (physical). It is for this reason that I recommend working on yourself in a balanced, integrated way, so as to avoid the possibility of some of your intelligences going too far ahead of the others, or falling too far behind.
Second in the 3-part series ... January 22, 2020
Third in the 3-part series ... January 29, 2020
Chris Thomson was a lawyer and economist in Scotland until the mid-80s, when he was asked to chair the Natural Medicines Commission in the UK. He then trained as a psychotherapist in London, before joining the Scottish Council Foundation, a think-tank in Edinburgh, set up in anticipation of devolution. From there he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he advised multinational corporations on various moral issues.
As well as passable Spanish and French, Chris speaks Chinese.
He now lives in the Catalan Pyrenees, where is a keen mountaineer. The ski slopes are only 20 minutes away!
Chris published Full Spectrum Intelligence in 2014. He is now writing The Inner Cosmos, and Intelligent Simplicity
YouTube or https://www.youtube.com/user/Vaguehighlander
As a guest post - the views are those of the author.
TU Chris ... Onward ...
As we sit at the table with your favourite beverage know
WELLth Movement guides inspired practitioners to become natural educators who deliver extraordinary experiences with their community of significance using eco-ethical architecture.
_ Managers and Leaders in organizations of all types, sizes, and locations
_ Parents & Grandparents looking to involve their children/grandchildren with nature
_ Facilitative Mentors
_ Navigators & Weavers
_ Employees & Customers
_ Children and Grandchildren
Community of Significance
_ Elevate groups and teams (departments/units) to communities of significance
_ Involve family and friends in nature-based activities to benefit of all & trees
_ use of Ecological Literacy
_ use of Ethical Decision-Making
_ use of language that evolves love and compassion in being for the world