October 20, 2014

DUGGAL | Why Is Everyone Smarter Than I Am?

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It’s not just the engineers — I can deal with feeling significantly less smart in a room full of engineers. In fact, after my recent calculus prelim (more commonly known as the point in this semester I realized I’m going nowhere in life), I’ve even given into bowing down to certain pre-med majors (aka half my floor). Spending this past weekend at a Model United Nations conference interacting with students from all over the country, however, has left me a little more than uneasy with the idea that quite literally everyone I meet is a genius.

It’s not as if I’m unprepared to meet people that are smarter than I am every day on campus and otherwise; I look forward to it actually. There is, however, a difference between being aware of the fact that there will always be people smarter than you and being faced with a situation in which you have to work with (and sometimes against) those people. Why do they know these things, I wonder. Why don’t I know these things? Why did I spend four hours watching Netflix when I could have read half a dictionary and kept up with this conversation instead? The sense of insecurity that ensues when you find you have little substance to contribute is fairly intimidating — and it’s completely unnecessary.

Most times, we believe people to know far more than they actually do. Like those people at my Model UN conference discussing “urban poetry.” It’s not that they knew more about everything I knew nothing about (note: Urban poetry is literally rap); rather, they were interested in something I had little interest in discussing. People tend to talk about topics they have observed or have had personal experience with — things they know and understand. Yet, rarely do we all share an interest or an understanding of the same topics. We mask what we don’t understand by publicly discussing what we do, and in doing so, we unintentionally (sometimes intentionally) give off the impression that we know more than others, not that we know different from others.

There are, of course, several ways to approach situations like these. You could try to prove yourself to be smarter than the people you’re surrounded by. But, that’s exhausting — and frankly, pretty annoying. Your time and energy is better spent taking in the different pieces of information people have to offer. Rather than focusing on what knowledge you could pull out to prove your intelligence, you can build off of the strengths of others. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this weekend, it’s that the people worth knowing are the ones willing to share — knowledge, experiences and advice. If all they want is to use their information against you, their information is probably not that impressive anyway.

Hebani Duggal is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at hduggal@cornellsun.com. Teach Me How to Duggal appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

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