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How Being Called "Smart" Equals Fewer Friends

01 Nov 2020 . 9 mins : thoughts . Comments
#philosophy #thoughts #emotions #guilt #psychology #self-help #relationships #self-awareness

This write-up took me a lot of courage to write - being guilty of the same crimes one is to write about is difficult, and that’s what I’m stepping into. For most of my life, thanks to having a comfortable upbringing and encouraging friends, I’ve been in the bracket of individuals labeled “smart”.

Yes! This write up is exclusively about the shortcomings of being called “smart” - regardless of whether one is smart or not (and that’s a separate all-night debate altogether). As the author of the post, it is my responsibility to confess that I, very honestly, consider myself above-average in certain fields (programming), mediocre in some (time management), and below-average in others (cooking). Overlooking this balance and shortcomings, it is very easy for others to call me “smart” based solely on my achievements that they see (and I choose to show) - and that is the premise of this write-up.

Smart, smartness and any similar word below implies the label associated with an individual of being “smart” by people who scarcely know them to understand their flaws and how normal and balanced “person” the individual is.

The Weight Of The Tag

Let’s talk about the burden of the tag of being “smart”. Yes! Undeniably it feels good when people consider us smart, I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Only once we start living the life with the pride of that tag, we come face to face with the implications (and still I’m not saying it doesn’t feel good :wink:). The equality from relationships we form with interesting individuals around us loses its balance - it forms a barrier which both the person being called “smart” and other individuals keep strengthening in each interaction.

While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. - Stephen Covey

In a general interaction between two individuals who have a balanced relationship (which is difficult and idealistic), a conversation fulfills the need to share, listen, understand, and grow from the experiences, thoughts, and life of all involved. This is what the tag of smartness takes away - the smart person now has to live up to the tag! Conversations become one-sided with the person wanting to show that he is worthy of the tag, he has a lot to share, his life is going at the pace of light, he is busy with all the cool stuff there is to do in the world, and so on - widening the gap, making the other individuals feel inferior, irritated, and simply disengaged - eager to avoid them (we will come back to this).

While the “smart” person is busy cementing the walls of difference, the other individuals feel the conversations they can have are mundane and not worth the time of the “smart” person. They start associating lesser importance with the experiences and thoughts they are having - and this makes them stay mum more. They listen patiently, and while that is a great habit, forced listening only makes them want to introduce more distance, even if they love the individual a lot. And when they feel not listened to, they move away emotionally first, then physically.

Sometimes people speak up and confront if the “smart” person is very important to them (and vice versa), which requires courage and mutual understanding. Otherwise, in most cases, the one-sided relation ends up being reduced to saying “hi” passing each other on walks.

A Jump Into The Rabbit Hole

Above we talked about how people would want to avoid the “smart” person in general scenarios - and most of the time no one is aware that this distance is increasing unconsciously. Slowly and unnoticeably the distances grow and, one fine day the hammer strikes - what started as speaking a little more turns into a habit of sabotaging conversations and leaving people feeling inferior after the conversation. Now, the “smart” person is faced with two choices - retrospect and correct themself, or blame that people are stupid (remember he is already called “smart”?) and carry on.

It is unfortunate that very few of us choose the former, and it requires great courage and efforts to come out of the rabbit hole.

While it is hard (very very hard) to try to move up the rabbit hole, it is easy to slide down: once we are distant from people, it feels better and is more comfortable to engage ourselves in activities that provide us with justifications conforming to our state. We look towards escapism - friends are not required, others are stupid, people talk about stupid stuff, my time will be better invested in learning X, reading the Y paper, etc.

Where’s The Problem

The problem… right! Everything that I’ve talked about above can be an issue in itself for a few of us. However, for most of us, it reads fine and there is no issue - not explicit issues at least. Let’s take a quick diversion in the next paragraph and return to the topic at hand.

All of us in life want to feel important; it is this feeling that drives mankind to find an answer to the question “what is the significance of our existence”. While I’ve no knowledge, context, interest, or mental faculty to discuss that, I do acknowledge that all of us want to feel important, valued, and of significance in our little ways, in our little worlds. Lack of reasons and ways to make ourselves feel important leads to dissatisfaction, lack of motivation, and many other unhealthy emotions.

The Need Pyramid

Getting back to the discussion at hand, “where’s the problem?”. While I would leave the assessment of problems in your life (or there could be no issues as well) due to staying in the rabbit hole (please share with me in the comments if you’d like to), I’d enjoy sharing with you a problem I identified in my own life - let’s say I became excessively achievement-focused. While I was getting drawn away from people, I started to collect and base my importance in achievements - getting X rank in JEE, getting GSoC in the first year, getting selected in Z society, and so on. These are noble pursuits, and that I agree - there was no harm in aiming for them. The harm lied in the fact that I had based my importance and significance on my achieving these goals - that made me fragile; I started seeing myself as a collection of achievements and these feats defined my self-worth. Any small disturbance or failure would be hard for me to take, sometimes leaving me with painful emotions of incompleteness, purposelessness, and incomprehensible sadness. This is just the tip, we haven’t even talked about the lack of abundance mentality and comparing myself to others, not able to feel genuinely happy for their achievements, and wanting to have more than them.

If you’d be interested to know more about how an achievement-focused lifestyle is unhealthy, many wonderful people have written online; a concise one which I found is The Dangers of Basing Self-worth on Achievement by Alison E. Berman.

Moving Up The Hole

While I acknowledge that being called “smart” has been a push in aspects of my life that others can see, it has tremendously made me divert focus from attaining a balance in life. This imbalance led to poor health (I could learn X instead of exercising), pushing myself to save time (I can complete Y assignment instead of listening to a friend), and much more that I’ve come to detest. As I’ve mentioned at the beginning, it is very tempting to put up a wall, think of myself as superior, and keep moving down the rabbit hole - it is the easier path with seemingly more rewards - and a wise one to choose for someone who genuinely puts more importance in achievements, likes to explore maths, etc. However, Is it a good path for everyone? Is the easier path the one we’ve to choose? Is the momentum too strong to break? :slightly_smiling_face:

While I do not have answers to any of those questions (I’d genuinely love to know your thoughts), I’ve tried to amend my ways and consciously attempt to listen better - it’s difficult, requires a lot of patience, and it’s a skill acquired over time. With each day, I’ve come to enjoy life more, get more experiences than I could ever by staying in my mind, appreciate other individuals better, see everyone from an equal perspective, and above all, base importance on principles of being of service - that is totally in my control.

Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone is a writer, some are written in the books and some are confined to hearts.” - Savi Sharma


I'm intrigued by human psychology and code backend for videogames. I live with a philosophy to be simple, true, and kind always. I enjoy taking days slowly and writing when I learn something new - ah! that reminds me, I enjoy learning from new experiences a lot.