The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On being matter of fact.

People are funny - if you like sick jokes.

I shall explain. Occasionally, I get very indignant comments (which I tend not to post), from people who accuse me of being "arrogant" and "proud". When I read their tortured words, I find myself quietly puzzled. It seems strange to me that someone who has never met me, never heard my voice, never listened to my words, never seen my expressions, never known my handshake, never had a chance to converse or discuss ideas with me, can come to a conclusion about my nature.

Usually, they base their assumptions on the fact that my posts speak of my children. They read in my simple descriptions of their doings and beings "arrogance" and "pride" - yet, I have neither. I am actually a very straightforward person of no pretensions whatsoever. Anyone who knows me, well enough, would agree. Strangely, however, these indignant posters find the means to make a character judgement of me, without actually ever having met me, or having any first-hand information to go on, at all.

I find it interesting that people who have no real information can come to clearly what are firmly held conclusions, on someone else's personality. I think what is happening here, to a great extent, is that they proceed by assumption. They assume that a person whose child happens to be gifted in some way will be "proud" or "arrogant" about it - and then project this assumption onto the writer who describes such a child. Perhaps, indeed, what they are projecting is themselves: if they were in the same situation THEY would be "proud" and "arrogant".

Parents of gifted children sometimes encounter such reactions in person, face to face, when they unwittingly annoy another parent by simply telling a story, as an act of sharing, about their child. It usually never occurs to the parent of a gifted child that the other parent might be annoyed by such a story - because the child described is doing something their child cannot. Basically, a lot of this assumption of "pride" and "arrogance" comes down to pure jealousy. The jealous person projects negative qualities onto the gifted parent, so as to justify their own negative feelings towards that person. They don't see that the origin of the negativity lies in themselves. Were their jealousy to go away, so would their belief in the other's "pride" and "arrogance".

In this, rather dumbed down world we live, all a gifted person or gifted parent has to do to cause offence to others, is to think, in public. Nothing is more sure to cause offence than an intelligent utterance. To think, is to be damned. You see, many people...usually not very bright people, find it very hard to actually acknowledge that a bright person is not being "arrogant" or "prideful" when they speak with evidence of a working mind. They are simply being authentically themselves.

For a bright person, it would be inauthentic not to speak, as if thought were in action. It would be a lie not to be clear and lucid in verbal expression. It would be untrue to pretend not to know or understand. Yet, many people expect an absence of thought in the conversations they hear; expect a cumbersome lack of clarity or just an ever present simplicity, in expression; expect others not to know or understand. All one has to do to offend such a person is to think, to know or to understand.

In many societies, being bright, is socially unacceptable. In Singapore, the best way to be is to be just like everyone else (see prior post). However, in the best societies (which may be hypothetical) the best way is just to accept others as they are and value them for themselves. Few, though, seem to practice this ethos.

I write in a matter of fact way about everything: the things I understand, the things I appreciate, the doings of my children, memorable moments in their growth. There is never a moment when I feel "prideful" or "arrogant". In fact, I have never really understood the need for such emotions. We are all human beings. We are all living the one life that we shall ever have. I think we should be more accepting of each other.

I write about giftedness (and many other things). Giftedness, as an issue, does not get the attention its innate importance deserves. I think, therefore, that it is important to write of it and perhaps do something to increase awareness of the issues and problems involved. All other areas of life have their advocates, spokespeople, writers and communicators. I don't see why I shouldn't be one for giftedness - for such people are needed. Every community needs a voice. I voice the concerns of a particular segment of the population that is often afraid to speak out too much, lest it attract the negative attention, sometimes very aggressive, negative attention that is customarily hurled at the gifted and their parents.

No. In my experience, gifted children and their parents are not "proud" or "arrogant" - they are just simply trying to make the best of what they are, in the hope of offering something to a, perhaps, undeserving world. (For a deserving world, wouldn't accuse them of "arrogance" or "pride" in the first place.)

By the way, the latest person to accuse me of "pride" and "arrogance" was a Singaporean (IP address). It is a pity that people such as him/her cannot accept others as they are, without assuming them to be what they are not. Such sentiments don't make one feel entirely welcome, here...but you know, it is a big world out there. There are many places that are more accepting of people who have something to offer.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication prohibited. Use Only with Permission. Thank you.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:39 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must agree. People with truly gifted chldren are NOT proud, but instead rather humble. I know that we are. Don't listen. It just raises one's blood pressure, and that kind of annoyance is not very productive for you or your family.
Happy Holidays!

10:55 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

Actually, being proud of one's children is a very natural thing, so maybe you could understand that the people who leave such comments are only acting on that premise. Another generalisation about people and their children: Everyone thinks that his or her children are the best/smartest/most handsome etc. Since most people don't know a genius or a parent of one, they don't know how to react and just brand them as showoffs.

I think you are right that Singapore is very very conformist, and here it is especially true that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. So if comments of the type that you mentioned make you upset, maybe you can be 'matter of fact' in such a way that doesn't irk others? I don't know how that is done, but be creative, maybe. :-D

12:51 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your supportive words.

A Happy New Year to you, too.

4:29 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, Colin to write in such a way as not to irk such people, without being inauthentic to oneself. You see, what they are objecting to is the nature of oneself. To prevent their objections, one would have to obscure that self. Only a lie could satisfy them...the kind of lie that goes a little like: "You are better than me, I am just a dumb ordinary joe..." That's what such people want to hear.

Any description of the truth would irk them.

The only thing that can be done is to write on, in a documentary fashion, letting the events speak to those open enough to listen.

Thanks, as ever, for your comment.

4:34 AM  
Blogger Miao said...

Their reactions could be due to the traditional Asian mentality to exalt humility (sometimes to the extent of condeming healthy self-confidence). So when they see someone who has confidence in his own abilities, they assume him to be arrogant. This is really quite unfortunate - it shows a failure to tell the difference between confidence and complacence. It also indicates an inability to rejoice in other people's successes.

Please continue writing about your children - I enjoy reading about them. I don't find you snobbish at all; and it is important that your children get to read your archives in reminiscence of their childhood after they grow up. It would also be very sweet and helpful if they get to read your reflections, as a father, on their development. So don't restrict yourself by writing in a matter-of-fact style. What matters most is that you enjoy the writing process, and that your children will get to benefit in future.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are right, Miao. The value, to my children, of these records cannot be overestimated. I think few of us ever get this kind of insight into how we were as children, for few parents keep such a record (as most are too busy/not reflective enough, I expect).

Thanks for your encouragement.


5:58 PM  
Blogger Eaststopper said...

Well, you just have to accept some people as who they are. Just practice what you preach.

1:30 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

It's also important for the voice of the prodigiously gifted to be heard within the gifted community. Right now that voice is underrepresented.

I also enjoy reading about your extraordinary children. Best wishes in the New Year!

2:22 AM  
Blogger Jordi Domingo i Roquer said...

Keep on with this great job you're doing here, Valentine.

A Happy New Year from Catalonia,

6:02 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your view, Eaststopper, is equivalent to saying that non-criminals should accept the activities of criminals in their midst. It is neither logical nor reasonable. Those who write indignant posts are generally unpleasant to read, usually offensive, and always wrong-headed: are we to say that is just as reasonable as those who are tolerant of others?

It is not a matter of "practicing what I preach" - it is a matter of having some basic tolerance for other people. Those who are intolerant should not, ironically, be tolerated by those who are tolerant, for to do so, is to encourage intolerance. Just as those who are not criminal, should not approve of those who are.

By writing as you have Eaststopper, you are siding with the intolerant, unpleasant, bigoted and narrow-minded people in our community. Why would you want to do that?

Ironically, it is the people who accuse others of negative emotions such as arrogance, who are usually the holders of negative emotions - such as envy, jealousy and spite. They are the ones who should not be tolerated by an enlightened society for, to do so, lowers the tone of the whole society.

I note that you are a Singaporean Eaststopper - so you defend your fellow Singaporean's right to be intolerant, narrow-minded and unaccepting do you? wonder Singapore is not a civil society.

There is a paradox in what you propose. You cannot ask me to accept the unaccepting behaviour of the accusing commenters - for to do so is to condone those who do NOT accept others. Accepting them leads directly to unacceptance as a norm. It cannot be that way. We must not accept unacceptance, for to do so is to undermine the values on which a civil society is built. That is, of course, if Singapore WANTS a civil society. It must just prefer to be a soul-less, overly competitive, dog-eat-dog, no-one gives a damn kind of place. That would be easy to do. All it would have to do is to remain unchanged.

What I am proposing is a higher standard of civil behaviour to the benefit of all. I think that would be an improvement.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Shannon, I think you are right. Prodigious children face a lot of difficulties from the education systems of the world precisely because they have no voice, therefore no real awareness and understanding, even among educators. Perhaps having a voice will help this community, in some way, through changing attitudes to the need of such children to special educational access.

Thanks for your well wishes.

Kind regards

10:50 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Jordi.

I have been to is a very pleasant city.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Best wishes

10:52 AM  
Blogger Eaststopper said...

Dear Valentine,
I think you may have misread my comments - I too have come across many bloggers whom in my opinion, gives rude and hurting comments in my blog. I try not to see it negatively but rather to accept and understand why they see things their way. It was a very harmless statement and no offence was intended.

I am however, disappointed that you chose to correlate my statements to the equivalent of supporting criminal actions. In addition, your point that Singapore is not yet a civil society is a tad harsh. Yes, there is much room for improvements for all Singaporeans and we have much work to do. I am still surprised that after all these years in Singapore, and blogging about what is wrong with Singapore, you still chose to remain here. Something must be better here than in UK or US I suppose?

1:05 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Eaststopper,

I categorize criminal actions as anti-social deeds...a category into which I would also put unpleasant posters of comments. However, criminal actions and nasty commenters are at different ends of the anti-social spectrum. Nevertheless, both are antisocial actions and should not be encouraged, as your words indicated that you did (or at least excused it).

I agree that one should try to understand why people write as they do - but that is not the same as approving of it, or accepting it. One can understand, without condoning.

Singapore is a country with some good points and some bad points. Singaporeans may not be in a position to see the bad points for two main reasons: they have no real perspective on their country, for many have not lived elsewhere long enough to gather a perspective and, secondly, there is a lot of thought conditioning here, from early childhood, which might prevent Singaporeans from thinking clearly about the issues.

As an outsider, I am able to see Singapore as it truly is, since I have many comparisons to make. It is of value, therefore, if I share what I see and understand.

You are wrong to characterize all my posts about Singapore as negative. (Recently, for instance, I praised the library system.) That is not so. However, indeed, a number are critical. The reason they are so, is because they need to be, if the truth is addressed.

Singapore is not better, overall, than the UK, from my perspective. The US is too dangerous for my liking, so I would never consider living there. I am in Singapore because my wife is Singaporean and is rather attached to her family here. Were she Spanish, I would probably be in Spain. Thus, the choice of country is a consequence of my choice of wife. I did not choose the country directly.

Having said that, Singapore has one good characteristic compared to quite a few places: violent crime is relatively low. I like that aspect. Having said that, though, I do believe that other categories of crime are much higher than commonly believed. We have, for instance, had our wallets or other property stolen three times since I came here. The police were just not interested in doing anything about it. So, I think the TRUE crime rate in some categories is MUCH higher than people believe. Yet, I think that violent crime is, in fact, rare.

For the sake of comparison, I lived in Europe for 33 years, but never once was I stolen from. In my seven years in Singapore, I have been stolen from three times. That seems to indicate that Singapore has a much higher rate of theft than the UK/Ireland.

Thanks for explaining that you meant no offence. Your words, as first written, came across as quite blunt.

Happy New Year.

7:19 PM  

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