The Other Intelligence

A few days ago, I offered my thoughts on intelligence, which I defined as simply facts about a foreign nation. But as a reader pointed out, the word intelligence has another, entirely different meaning: the degree of mental ability. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the faculty of understanding or the capacity to know or apprehend.” As with most noncorporeal concepts, there are many versions of that definition: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills; the skilled use of reason; the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations; the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (such as tests); mental acuteness or shrewdness; capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.; manifestation of a high mental capacity; the faculty of understanding.

What it all boils down to is the ability to think well.

While I give myself high marks for creativity, I’ve never considered myself especially intelligent. I think more slowly than others and tend to say nothing until I have had time to think through facts and ideas. While that tends to make me the quiet member of a group, it also assures that I put my foot in my mouth less often.

Others sometimes credit me with intelligence. My own estimate is that I am less intelligent than wise—I’m smart enough to keep my mouth shut unless I know what I’m talking about, an acuity not too common among most of the people I know.

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