By Shamyla Tareen
I’ve always been fascinated by intellectuals. They sit down with you at a party and talk politics, religion, art and science. They will argue with you about retrocausality and postmodernism. They dazzle you in discussions about 19th century French literature, Sudanese social commentary, the Dow-Jones, and the nature of black holes – all in one evening.
I am not one of those people.
I’d rather blow bubbles or play in the sand. I’d rather talk to you about what you loved and how it made you feel, and the nature of puppies. The power of storytelling appeals to me more than debate. When I think of intellectualism, I have to be careful not to confuse it with pretentiousness. I have to make sure I don’t roll my eyes and say something sarcastic like, “Oh congratulations, you’re so smart! Want a cookie?”.
Some young women are encouraged to speak their minds and feel proud of their intellect. In my family, women are traditionally encouraged to be chaste, obedient, and humble. These traits, while ensuring a girl may marry into a “good” family and serve her future husband and in-laws well, often doesn’t leave much room for intellectual curiosity or growth. Even after college, I was semi-convinced that good girls must keep their opinions on important matters that didn’t concern them firmly to themselves. My intellect was valued, but in a traditional sense – it meant being a doctor, a dentist, or a brilliant scientist. To this day, I get nervous airing my opinions because they may not be backed with scientific evidence, and someone may yell out “ALL WRONG!”. The curtain will drop, the scene will be over, and I will be locked in my own personal tower of shame.
It’s been a challenge for me to learn to find my voice, and to recognize that my intellect is not a curse in a world where I am defining my own path. That’s what I believe intellectual wellness is about.
Through some research, I discovered that Intellectual Wellness means using a variety of resources to open your horizons and improve skills to experience your life more fully. It refers to active participation in activities that foster growth and help one make better life decisions. It also involves combining classroom and life experience. “Valuing and nurturing creativity, curiosity and lifelong learning are part of intellectual wellness. Intellectually well people are open to new ideas, think critically and seek out new challenges. People who develop intellectual wellness are more likely to maintain good cognitive function as they age.” – source: http://www.campusrec.illinois.edu/wellnesscenter/dimensions/intellectual.html
In my world, intellectual wellness is not just a discussion about something fancy you read. (Although if you like to read fancy things, by all means go for it!) I do like knowing new facts and gathering information, and breaking down difficult information into simple chunks, and watching a lightbulb go off in someone’s head as you explain it is really exciting.
I think intellectual wellness is a form of engaging yourself in creative or stimulating activities to expand your knowledge. It is a way to help an individual discover how to share his or her gifts with others. Those gifts may be wide-reaching and all-encompassing, or they could be extremely focused, in a nuanced direction. Celebrating someone’s thoughts by allowing them to share them (however they can do that) and accepting that they have a right to their beliefs – however different from mine – means that I am just as much of an intellectual as if I’d read 1000 books and could quote from all of them.
This quote by Alvin Toffler is so meaningful: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” If our world is constantly changing, where does that leave us? Can we be more open to new ideas, even about ourselves? Personal growth is a part of intellectual wellness. Are we obsessed with collecting knowledge and regurgitating it to impress others, reciting the day’s Yahoo news and celebrity gossip to our friends – or are we really interested in learning about new ways to go through this maze of a puzzling life?
I have thought a lot over the years about creativity, intelligence, and what was valued in the educational system that I went through for secondary education. “Ruttification” as they called it in my Pakistani high school – the process of memorizing a paragraph, an equation, or a formula – and spitting it back into an exam to get high marks. It was not about how smart you were independently- it was more about how much you could memorize generic ideas and the high grades you got (and in some cases, the bribery to get the grades for your children who did not perform well). Recently, this article was shared with me to learn more about higher-order thinking. In the United States and other countries, remembering and reciting information is actually on the lowest order of thinking. (Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy: http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/EDTEC470/sp09/5/bloomstaxanomy.html)
I’ve had to re-learn the process of being creative, trusting my own ideas, and understand that even very, very smart journalists for The Economist and Newsweek are not God. Everyone has their own spin on things. Maybe none of us are wrong… everyone sees things differently. Using my own words and thoughts to understand the world around me, apply it to my life, evaluate and re-evaluate and then to even create new ideas is intellectual growth!
When I was in college, I used to tell myself, “once I’m done with these required courses, I’m going to come back after graduation and take different classes just for fun. No pressure for my GPA or getting a great job. I just want to take classes in random things I’m interested in.” Life got in the way and I have not yet done that! I still want to do that. I want to carve time out of my busy life to pay attention to learning. Being alive means there is always more to understand.
I hope we all stay curious and never lose our sense of wonder. With that, I must foster my intellectual curiosity by taking care of my brain and going to sleep at a reasonable hour. I must have my intellect razor sharp, ready for more Facebook statuses, posts, and articles tomorrow!