I write today not only as a Baha’i but as a mother and educator of young people.
Recently, I received an unusual distinction as a member of the organization Mensa. I didn’t have to take a test; I didn’t have to have materials evaluated. I didn’t even know I was in the running for an award. The gods know I’ve never had one actually created for me.
Finishing out my year as editor of our local bulletin, I submitted several original puzzles for consideration in Mensa’s Publications Recognition Program. Only five were selected nationally for recognition; one was mine.
Much to my surprise, I received an email saying I had been honored—but not because of my puzzle. Claire Natola, who ran the program, invented an award just for me that she called Miss Congeniality (yes, like in the Miss America pageant—at least I didn’t have to wear a swimsuit.) According to our group’s ombudsman, she told the entire group assembled at the national awards dinner that it was my overall nice-ness to her that made it possible for her to do her job.
I thought I was just behaving normally—although I was a little puzzled when she mentioned in the course of our lengthy correspondence that some people had been downright rude to her. I mean, it was a contest, not a discussion of religion or politics or those other things people get tied up in knots over.
Since Mensa is an organization you test into based on intellect, this started me thinking about what we value as supposed intellectuals and wondering why intellectual achievement doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with either tolerance or spiritual qualities like kindness. It seems like smart people should see the value in these even better than the rest of the population. I have a gifted child and have always felt it was at least as important for him to develop virtues as it was to hone his mental faculties. Let me share this with you:
“The children . . . must be constantly encouraged and made eager to gain all the summits of human accomplishment, so that from their earliest years they will be taught to have high aims, to conduct themselves well, to be chaste, pure, and undefiled, and will learn to be of powerful resolve and firm of purpose in all things . . . Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning . . . . the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light.” (from the writings of Abdu’l-Baha, leader of the Baha’i Faith 1892-1921)
Is this not a lovely thought? Intellectual achievement only takes you so far. Intellect and virtues are two manifestations of the human spirit, and humanity needs both if it is to survive.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.