Friday, April 25, 2008

Gifted vs. Nerd

Whenever you hear about a homogeneous group of some sort, I can guarantee you that people in that group find ways to distinguish themselves from each other. I can always make my former-minister father laugh when a news story about Evangelical Christians comes on and I quip, "Because all Christians always agree on everything all the time." Having stood witness to the inner workings of church government most of his life, Dad finds this statement funny.

This theory works for pretty much every group I can think of. Only people outside of New York lump Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens under the label "New Yorkers." People who refer to Southerners as one big happy group of similar people have never been to a Clemson/Georgia game.

Divisions exist everywhere. Only recently, I discovered the huge academic rift and deep-seated rivalry between anthropologists and archaeologists. Which is surprising, but makes sense the more you think about the superstars in each field - anthropologists have Louis Leaky while the archaeologists have Indiana Jones. (I learned this from, of all places, the Lost podcast.)

I guess my group could be called "smart people." And, like all people in this group, I have this area of distinction where I like split hairs - gifted people vs. nerds. I have been in both camps at various times in my life, and have come to the conclusion that I dislike the gifted as much as I love the nerd.

Gifted people are just that - people with gifts. Which is to say, everyone on the planet. You can fail math but still be a gifted musician. You can be intensely socially awkward, but be a really gifted Java programmer. You can even be gifted in shoving a large number popcorn kernels up your nose. Ultimately it doesn't matter as long as you call yourself gifted.

The issue I have with gifted people is the gifted person attitude that comes from being overpraised. I understand all too well the way gifted children run to the sanctuary of academics or books to escape the whole thirteen-to-seventeen year mosh pit we call the educational system, but I also know that the sanctuary can instill a sense of overconfidence that doesn't fly in the real world. It is one thing to be smart, but that is not enough to get by in life. Just because you can do advanced math in your head, if you don't couple that with a disciplined work ethic, you might as well be flickin' boogers.

One of the worst people I ever worked with was a Mensa member. This person did nothing but brag about the aforementioned Mensa membership. Brag and insult the "stupid" and "incompetent" co-workers that plagued the workplace. This person never did any real work, got "sick" right before deadlines, and often blamed everyone else when projects failed. "I did not get the proper amount of support," was a popular excuse. So was, "If you people could get your act together, I wouldn't be in this situation."

I think of this person when I think of people calling themselves "gifted." You may have all the brains in the world, but if you don't do anything with them except sit back and complain, you are less than worthless.

Nerds are another matter. Nerds are defined by their unconditional love, passion, and dedication to a subject. There are Band Nerds, Math Nerds, and Photography Nerds. Someone can achieve total nerd status in a subject by simply doing an amount of work considered outside of the norm. You may like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but you aren't a Buffy Nerd unless you have memorized large chunks of each episode, read all of the comics, and dress up as one of the characters on Halloween.

Nerds love unconditionally and without shame. When presented a problem, even a management problem (for example, how can we import full software functionality within the prescribed six-week deadline with severe resource allocations thanks to the fact that our lead developer, Bryson, is getting married in Jamacia), nerds attack it with intense delight ("I know! All night pizza-and-coding parties!") that just don't occur to the non-nerd.

The ideal is, of course, to have someone who is both a gifted person and a nerd. It is a rare and wonderful thing for someone to be both passionate for a subject and possessing natural gifts and insights about the subject. However, if only one option is available, give me the nerds any day of the week.


NoRegrets said...

Can you be gifted at something that does not require skill? I just wonder... like farting for example.

Of course, all of us have the capacity to be gifted if we used a greater percentage of our brain.

I don't think ALL gifted people are as you describe, and neither are nerds. The common denominator for making them bearable is their ability to communicate, and also have joy in what they are doing. I guess maybe the gifted take it for granted and nerds have to work at it, so thus it's appreciated more, at least by that person.

M. Robert Turnage said...

The terms are just my personal names for describing people. I was in all sorts of advanced classes and things and am surprised how many of my peers have not really succeeded in the real world. And most of the time it is because they don't get the emotional coddling that academia gave them.

I've grown to appreciate dedication, devotion, and hard word rather than raw talent. That's really all I'm really sayin'.

And, according to every can be gifted, even in farting. There are people who have become professional performers because they can fart whole songs. I know this thanks to the power of YouTube.

M. Robert Turnage said...

The previous link is too long. Try this one instead:

Tera said...

The NERDS!!!!!!!!!!!! Aaaaaah...I love it! Favoritest movies of all times. I still chuckle (and am slightly grossed out) when Boogar (how the hell do you spell that? let's just call him Moco) does the burp thing!!!!!

Anyways people always referred to me as a nerd since I was in the "Gifted Program" all through school.