The Oddities of Genius

Have you ever known a genius?  Genius is usually a word used to describe certain traits of intelligence.  We might say a genius has a passion for learning and has unique processing capabilities.  They generally show a creativity and intelligence beyond their peers.  Some definitions are more fixed or measurable, like the score on an IQ test.  A common statement of genius is an IQ Test score of 140 or better.   We can talk about Newton or Einstein or Mozart or Picasso – but most of us know a genius.  Most of us have had some personal experience with a genius.  I know several.  None of them has had an easy life.

I worked for thirty years in health care information systems and finance.  Along the way I met several people who are generally regarded as genius.  One man I knew had a masters degree in accounting and was a CPA in Illinois and Missouri.  He had a genius for numbers.  He could flip through a financial report detailing 300 million dollars of operating revenue and have a complete understanding of the financial status in a few minutes.   I went camping with a neurosurgeon.  We took our families to a farm pond and pitched tents.  A local urologist had a bachelors degree in engineering.  Another friend has a masters degree in social work and specializes in Jungian psychotherapy.  Some of those people think I am pretty smart – the first indication of their flawed intelligence.

When we think of genius our minds are drawn to people of great import, people who have changed history, who have given humanity some rewarding new insight.  Biographies are written and quirky character traits exposed.  Here is an example from Big Think:

“These are two great scientific geniuses whose characters were in some superficial ways completely different.  Isaac Newton was solitary, antisocial, unpleasant, bitter. He fought with his friends as much as with his enemies.  Richard Feynman was gregarious, funny, a great dancer, he loved women.  Isaac Newton, I believe, never had sex.  Richard Feynman, I believe, had plenty.  So you can’t generalize there.”

But I am talking about the regular run-of-the-mill genius.  I am talking about the person who enjoys creativity for the sake of creativity – they may never apply for a patent – their work is their reward.  They often earn a healthy financial reward, like the brain surgeon or the accountant.  But they are odd in many ways.  The urologist was the go-to-guy for any surgery that required great skill – but he was married four times.  The accountant was intolerant with poor or marginal verbal skills.  One man I knew well barely graduated from high school yet became the computer guy that IBM called when they were stuck.  His mind flared with brilliance in mathematics but he was a social conservative who preferred predictable social behavior – he struggled to adapt to a changing culture.

What does any of this mean?  It means to me that genius can be discipline specific.  It means that a brilliant neurosurgeon may be a very poor friend or husband or father.  Dose this take away from his genius?  No.  It does serve the dumbed-down conservative community that hopes to deny any promotion of education or critical thinking.  These are the people who lack any genius and find their self-worth in the destruction of others.  And most of the people I know as genius give plenty of fodder for criticism in their daily lives.  Maybe this is a function of society.  The scientific genius may define light as a steam of protons resulting in modern television.  The social genius sells used cars.

My genius friend who studies Jungian Psychotherapy is a master of the application of his study.  His listening skills are second to none.  After only a session or two he understands the nature of his client’s personality and intelligence.  He adjusts his communication to exactly match his client’s intellect and interprets psychological gobbledygook in the context his client finds most useful.   The genius is in understanding the complexities of Jung and the ability to apply the knowledge at the level needed by any given client.  He is a marvel of intellect.  But his personal life? – that is another matter.

I know a man who drives a truck for a concrete company.  He makes about twelve dollars an hour.   There has never been a better husband, father, or friend.  I watched him with his children.  His children impress their teachers with their grasp of every subject and their willingness to engage new topics with enthusiasm.  His wife is radiantly happy.  The man is humble and kind.  He readily acknowledges his own lack of education – and has no need to discredit the education of another.  He would never score well on an IQ Test.  His genius is in interpersonal relations.  If asked how he manages to be such a great husband and father he would probably say, “Who says I am great?  I have a great wife and children.”  He would be completely unable to articulate his family style in a manner that would help others to follow his lead.  Is he less of a genius for his lack of ability to pass along his understanding?  I think not.

Another man I know very well has a gift for any three dimensional mechanical device.  If it moves he understands it.  He once rebuilt an old tractor.  I asked, “How did you know what to do?”  He said, “I didn’t.  I just took it apart and put it back together the way I would have if I had built it in the first place.”  It never occurred to him that he might be a genius.  While we were talking his wife stuck her head in the garage and said, “Honey, will you go to the store for some milk and eggs?”  His shoulders slumped and he said in a low mumble, “OK”.  He turned to me and said, “I can’t stand to go through the check out line at the store.”

Well, do you know anyone who might qualify as a genius?  Might they be literary wonders who cannot grasp the concept of Pi?  Might they be a surgeon who prefers to be in the operating room twelve hours a day so they do not have to go home and deal with their family?  Might they be a father who’s entire intellect is dedicated to his children?

Is genius different than wisdom?  I think so.



Gary Clark

Gary L. Clark is an author. After a thirty year career he retired to write a novel. He then joined a counselor-in-training program at the local community mental health center and worked three years as a substance abuse counselor. He retired again and has written two more novels. He recently completed the annotation of a self-help book on faith-based self-help. Two published novels (available on address social justice. Mr. Clark is the Editor of He lives in St. Joseph, Missouri.

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