The Weight of the Word

February 9, 2014

“You’re so smart!”  We’ve all said it.  We say it with the best intentions.  We mean well.  We feel that saying that builds confidence, encourages kids to live up to to their best, and reminds them how great they really are.

But it does more.

“You’re so smart” carries a message.  You need to always be smart.  You are good at everything.  Shy away from risks, because it might be revealed that you are not as smart as I once thought.  Struggle doesn’t feel so good when you’re being told “But, c’mon, you’re so smart at this.”  In fact, it feels worse that failing and having someone tell you how dumb you are.  That might sound crazy.

smartBut when a kid is struggling and hears “You’re so smart,” that struggle feels worse.  It causes internal thoughts like, “But, I thought I was smart, why can’t I do this?”  or “They are not going to think I’m smart anymore.”

Smart is not something that people talk about gaining through effort.  It’s something people just say you are.

Effort on the other hand, is born through struggle.  Trying. Reaching. Thinking deeply. Working around problems.  Effort feels so good when you finally make it as far as you could, and that effort? It’s celebrated.  Not because you are “smart”, but because of hard work.

What if the very idea of ‘gifted’ is so caught up in the weight of the word ‘smart’ that people just never to get to see what it’s really about.  If we know gifted learners are just wired differently, then is it really even about being ‘smart’?  It’s about thinking differently.  It’s about perceiving deeper.  It’s about an intensity that causes you to question things at a harder level than some even understand.   Things like ‘being smart’ and simple phrases that we grow up feeling we have to live up to.

I never thought I’d write a post that seems to be saying, ‘Stop with the compliments.’  But, I’m just realizing how it’s not even really a compliment.  It’s more of an unfair expectation.

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