The Universe is created with myriad opposing forces: positive and negative magnetic poles, organization vs. chaos, and even moral concepts like good and evil. Most people are familiar with these forces. But there’s a powerful force I’ve observed in the interactions between brilliant people that is not universally recognized.
If you’re one of us, you know how it goes. You’re in some kind of meeting or gathering, and the Normals are blathering on about something and all of a sudden, somebody speaks up and offers a brilliant suggestion or insight. Your head snaps toward him or her automatically, and your eyes lock. Sometimes there’s even the slight inclination of your chin as you recognize: Hello, fellow smart person.
Then you meet, intentionally, either after the meeting, or at random at some other dreadful, thrashing decision gathering. You’re both excited, but a bit wary. Are you going to be competitors or cooperators (another set of opposing forces)? Can you find common ground? You’re sizing each other up. Feeling for the edges of intellect, trying to determine if they are smart or they just talk smart.
Then either of two things can happen. You can form an alliance, and jointly try to move the Normals in the right direction, or you repel, like two positive magnetic poles, and have nothing more really to do with one another other than a nod while passing in the hall. This latter rapprochement is probably caused by the shock of no longer being unequivocally the smartest person in the room.
When you grow up being the smartest person in every room, you have mixed feelings. Often there’s the feeling of loneliness. Where are my kindred intellects? Is there no one who can understand me? I am lonesome for my own kind.
Often the opposite feeling dominates: I am homo superior, why don’t these bugs recognize and cherish me? Look upon me and be amazed. This generates an arrogance that further pushes the Normals away.
You also might feel competitive with those who may be more-enlightened Normals, but whom you must beat back into their rightful subservience to your massive intellect. You belittle them in front of their peers, and dominate every conversation. These people suck.
When two Ultrabrights repel each other, it often leads to endless battles of wits, boasting, and other ego defense measures. Each has rarely been in this position before. Sure, you’ve worked with bright people, but you have scant experience working with another Ultrabright. You need to do what Normals constantly must do: find your place in the pecking order. Are you smarter than them? Are they smarter than you? Are they going to call bullshit on your brilliant ideas? Best to stay away, exchange your secret nods when in proximity, but essentially live and let live.
The magic happens with the Ultrabrights can resolve their issues, team up, and guide rather than bully the Normals in the right direction. This can be difficult for a single Ultrabright to do because of their low tolerance for frustration. “Can’t you see? Your idea is crap! We need to do it my way, and I haven’t the time to convince you!”
It can be impossible for two or more Ultrabrights to navigate the frustration inherent in seeing beyond what the Normals perceive.
Like a creosote bush, which inhibits growth of any plants within the reach of its roots, or the barren ring around a penicillin spore in a petri dish, some Ultrabrights lay waste to competition in their sphere of influence. They cannot tolerate the presence of other bright people. They stake out the smartest-guy-in-the-room position and sabotage anyone who dares challenge their intellect.
Now I don’t want to go all Ayn Rand on you, but this is a problem for society. If you can accept the premise that we need the smartest people doing the smartest work in order for our lives to be improved, having Ultrabrights locking horns and suppressing all other forms of innovation is a bad thing. A very bad thing. I submit that it may be a key reason why so many human systems fail. There have been exceptional examples of lots of Ultrabrights working together to achieve greatness: the Manhattan Project, the moon shot, Edison’s laboratory. But if you look closely at these efforts, they generally feature an alpha male (probably an Ultrabright, but not necessarily) who knows how to encourage cooperation and innovation. These strong leaders are even rarer than the Ultrabrights.
But there’s a long history of anti-intellectualism in the world, and especially in this country. Our culture marginalizes the bright, calling them losers, nerds, geeks, four-eyes, what have you. The problem in the US goes back to the founding fathers and probably further. Many people found Jefferson insufferable because he always had the best ideas. Of course, the guy was a bit of a jerk too, but he didn’t have any patience for waiting while the Normals around him worked their way into the solution Jefferson knew was inevitable.
This is a common problem with Ultrabrights, who often don’t have the best social skills. In many cases, this is self-fulfilling: They get rejected and so have little opportunity to learn how to be social. In other cases, it’s part of their makeup. Many Ultrabrights are on the spectrum—that continuum that runs from a little bit nerdy through insufferable Sheldon to full-on Raymond.
I’ve created a website for fellow Ultrabrights to converse and discuss this problem and how to move forward. Please join at Ultra-Brights.com. You’ll need to go through a vetting process—unfortunately necessary to weed out the trolls.
I hope together we can figure out a solution to the Ultrabright problem.