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“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein

Happy Friday Dear Readers,

What do you think of the above quote? Do you agree or disagree? Does it have any meaning to you?

What it instantly made me think of is our educational system, especially in the elementary school years. At no other time in one’s life is a person supposed to be good at everything. Say, for instance, a young student is proficient in mathematics and science. Do we praise that student, and encourage his/her passion for the Sciences? No, too often we focus on the student’s not-as-great showing in Art and English, and encourage him to bring up those grades to match the others.

In university and college, we’re finally allowed to specialize. And as adults, we’re rarely–if ever–expected to be good at everything. So why do we put that kind of pressure on children? I’ve never understood it. Rare among us are those who are equally strong in both the left and right sides of the brain. As adults, we recognize that rarity, and often refer to those who are as “Renaissance men” (or women).

As a kid, I excelled in creative thinking. Anything that allowed my imagination to take flight was an instant hit, so as you can imagine, I did well in English, Art, and even Social Studies, where I expressed my knowledge of medieval history by building a castle–can’t get more fun than that! By comparison, Math was “boring” and could not hold my interest long enough for me to get a handle on it. Instead, I wrote plays in Math class until I was forced by well-meaning parents to focus on the one subject that wasn’t my forte.

It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I found it strange. Sure, I agree we all have to know the basics. But why force a fish to climb a tree? I may know my times tables by heart, but I would never have gone into a math-related field in any case. It just wouldn’t make sense.

How about you, Dear Readers? What do you take from Einstein’s quote? And if you disagree with him, feel free to say so!

Have a great weekend, and thanks, as always, for being here.

Thanks to my dear friend Joce for supplying the quote for today’s exercise.

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  1. Mystic_Mom

    Great quote and if you take it in the bigger context of: everyone is good at something then it is right on! We all have talents and gifts, some are gifted in some areas and challenged in others. I think our society has this tendency to say, “Yeah you’re good at that but what about this?” and for some reason there are too many people who delight in our shortcomings instead of praising our abilities.

    As a mom of a gifted little guy I am constantly challenged by the places he can go and then am brought back to earth for the places he struggles.

    If we can see the genius in people then we can see more than our own measuring stick of who ‘passes’ or ‘fails’ in any certain task. I think that is the most important thing to take from the quote – we are all talented in our own areas and that is special. There is stretching ourselves to grown and learn and there is setting someone up to fail.

    Great quote Holli!

  2. thefish

    Hey Holli,
    Really good quote. There is a quote to the effect that genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. And if this is the definition of genius, I firmly agree that everyone is or has the potential to be a genius.
    However, I have been fortunate enough to know a couple people that I consider genius (including my wife). They seem to have an inate ability to remember nearly everything they see or hear, to be able to take complex and confusing things and break them down in to some key concepts which makes everything simple, and work persistantly to achieve whatever they put there mind to. For most of us it is possible to learn this but it would likely take a lifetime.
    As much as I respect Einstien and intelligence in general, I think there are more important things. For example: Being the best you you can be, being a good father / husband / wife …, being a good friend. I personally will take a friend who is slow by our standards but cares about me over a genius who can design me a weapon which would make me king of the world.
    I am likely in the minority on this one, but I am happy with this. Because I never want to say:

    “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely” Albert Einstein

  3. Story Teller

    Thanks for participating, MM & Vinnie!

    @ MM – I think you are exactly right. There used to be a great commercial where a series of children talked about the different things they were good at, with the overall message “everyone is good at something”, and it’s so true. I just takes some of us longer than others to find out what that thing is.

    @ my fishie friend – I completely agree that intelligence is not the most important quality in a person, especially when it comes to happiness. I’ve never wanted to sacrifice my creativity to be better in math, for instance, but I’ve often wondered if I’d be happier if I wasn’t as smart. The more we think–the more we’re aware of what’s going around us, the more we’re set up for misery, in a way.

    I much prefer emotional intelligence over IQ…many so-called genuises are unable to have positive, meaningful interactions with their fellow human beings, which would make for a lonely life, indeed.

    Thanks for posting. Have a great weekend!

  4. Lisa

    I hate to admit it but I am one of the guilty ones…Neither of my kids is great in math (yet each excels in other subject areas – my oldest is a lot like you were Holli – loves to be creative, artistic and builds models in order to explain concepts all the time), yet I push them in math and make them do their homework and stay after school to work on these concepts because I’m convinced they will need these skills in the real world. They do, to a point, but maybe not to the point where I would push. I think it’s a fine balance…one we are still struggling to find.

  5. Darcy

    On the flip side, not to play the devil’s advocate…but I notice often as a society we are so worried that kids might feel bad about themselves or fail at something that we are trying hard to eliminate that from the school system. True, we punish kids who suffer in one subject yet excel in something else because we expect and hope our child is perfect.

    However, no fail classrooms, no pressure school systems with little discipline, if any, I think, hurt a child more than anything else. How do you learn to succeed as an adult if you are never taught that you can fail? How do we teach children to be proud of their accomplishments and to grow and develop their self esteem if we never let them know that they must earn things in life?

  6. kungfusinger

    Hi Holli,

    It is interesting the comment you made to my husband. Have you ever read Flowers for Algernon? The main character Charlie Gordon is a mentally retarded gentleman who undergoes brain surgery to boost his intelligence. The short story is written from his viewpoint. As his intellegence increases, he becomes more aware of the way people were poking fun at him. When he was dumb, he thought they were laughing with him, but when he became smart, he knew they were really laughing at him all along.

    In the end it does not really matter if you are smart or creative or whatever. I think the secret to happiness is to “Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it.” – Drew Barrymore

  7. Story Teller

    @ Lisa – it is a fine balance, I agree, and to be fair, I’m speaking from the POV of a former student, not of a parent. Of course you don’t want your children to fail or not get the education they need. In my own case, though, I wish it would have been acceptable to excel in some subjects and be just average in others.

    @ Darcy – it’s great to be devil’s advocate sometimes, so no worries. 🙂 I’ve heard about schools abolishing grades. I don’t have a problem with students receiving criticism or being corrected…just with the idea that kids are supposed to be equally good at everything across the board. I agree with you in that neither extreme is a good solution. We need some reform, but have to be careful not to go too far the OTHER way.


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