Smart is Overrated

“It is much better to be more aware than smarter. Being more aware will also make you smarter in the bargain, because a conscious person makes better choices than an unconscious person.” – Deepak Chopra

There are countless things wrong with the world today. But anyone in any era could say that, and has said that. There was a hilarious Daily Show segment forever ago which underscored this so sarcastically and brilliantly – please stop reading this post and invest the five minutes it will take to watch this video. Hopefully even if you’re a Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck fan, you’ll still find some humor here. They are lamenting their fairy tale pasts, claiming that the world was so much simpler “back then.” It wasn’t; it’s never been simple. Never will be. But if you were a kid “back then,” you didn’t have the perspective of your parents, and so life indeed did feel a lot simpler.

The beautiful innocence of childhood does deliver experiences, and therefore produces memories that aren’t consistent with broader reality. This is good and right to a degree. I hope and trust that my kids don’t feel as acutely the challenges our society, our country, our world faces today as we do as adults. But I think they understand these challenges far better than we did when we were their age. We aren’t just educating them to be smart, we’re educating them to be more aware.

Frank’s ELA assignment this past weekend was to write a “You Don’t Even Know Me” poem. Here’s what he wrote.

I’m 12 years old
You believe I’m stupid
You say “Oh, he can’t take care of himself”
I have to be watched at all times
I’m white too
Just like everyone of my kind
Rich Boy
Spoiled like crazy
Wouldn’t be able to live a hard, challenging life
Wouldn’t be able to live without everything being done for me
I’m also a male
Never showing emotions
Playing sports and video games
Are both things that I do
Well you’re right for once
Everyone’s different
Not everyone my age, race, and gender
Is the same
Just remember you’re not always right
You don’t even know me.


It took him ten minutes to write this. Normally I would ask him to put in more effort, but I didn’t think there was any more for him to do here. When I evaluate ad concepts, I always force myself to use my gut first. If the gut is good, it’s typically because the work is rooted in a big and real insight. His writing was deep, insightful, true. It reminds me of a Nike script… am I going too far?!?! Maybe, but he gets it. He gets how people like him are perceived by a majority. How HE is most likely perceived by many, and therefore how he might be received in society as a wealthy white male.

I don’t ever remember an assignment like this one when I was in school. I don’t know what I would have even written. Certainly my kids live a less sheltered life than I did, growing up and attending public school in New York City rather than in New England suburbia; they see stark differences I didn’t see until I was much older. But I think this has less to do with Brooklyn, and more to do with today’s educators and society at large who believe in educating the whole person, not just the brain. Because Chopra is right. The traditional definition of “smart” is overrated. You don’t get very far these days without awareness of your surroundings. 


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