The silence of the gifted.
The gifted are, in my view, a remarkably silent bunch. By this, I mean, that they don’t seem to speak out, enough, to seek what they need from society. Nor do they speak enough of how they view and experience the world and what the issues might be that they face. In general, it seems, the gifted suffer in silence. They do little to help themselves compared to what they could be doing to help themselves. At least, that is how it looks in Asia, to me.
Yet, as I look around on the internet, I get the feeling that the gifted, everywhere, are a rather subdued bunch. By this I mean, they don’t seem to be as vocal or as visible as most minorities are. There, I have said it, I have called the gifted a “minority” group…and that is just what they are. What surprises me is that all other minority groups seem to have a greater presence in society, a greater voice. The gifted just seem to disappear. It is as if they are hiding in a corner, somewhere.
Now, there is a very clear reason for this. The reason is very clear to me, because I have experienced it quite a bit, on this blog. If a gifted person ever speaks out, and I mean EVER speaks out, they will note something that might surprise them, at first. There are people out there, who will try to shout them down. There are people who will write highly offensive, even profoundly deranged, letters, that are so over-written, that they seem to scream abuse. There are, quite simply, a lot of people who seem to wish that the “gifted” just didn’t exist at all. So, to speak out as a gifted person, or on gifted issues, is to open oneself up to attacks from those who seem to oppose the gifted.
This makes life difficult for the parents of any gifted child. Parents who are aware of the way some people react to the gifted, must, therefore, try to proceed, very discretely, to seek help for their child (or children). They proceed, almost invisibly, to reach out to education providers. They try not to draw attention to themselves. They try to achieve their aims, without anyone really noticing. This is, of course, all very well. The problem, however, is that, if one is invisible, the very same education providers may easily choose to ignore the parents and their gifted children. It is easy to get stonewalled. The alternative, is, however, even more perilous. If one steps out into the open, as a parent of a gifted child, to try to seek an appropriate education for them, it can be rather hellish. There are people out there who will, essentially, hurl abuse at the parents of the gifted child – and sometimes even at the gifted child themselves, as if offended by their very existence. Others, not so violently, but equally damaging, will decry the “special treatment” of the gifted child and call for nothing to be done, for it would not be “fair” to do anything for the child. Thus it is, that stepping out into the open, may not, in fact, improve the child’s educational chances, but will court negative reactions, from all sorts of quarters.
Gifted parents seem to know this. If you read forums on giftedness and message boards, you will note something very strange. The parents, there, usually use pseudonyms for themselves and codenames for their children, or simple letters. They never identify themselves. They obscure personal details. They try to communicate to other parents of gifted children, without ever letting themselves be known. They proceed, in some ways, like spies: ever secret, ever cloaked, ever mysterious. To my mind, they behave like a hunted minority. It is rather saddening to observe, actually. All one has to do, is to watch not what they say, but the way they say it. They are ever disguised. You would think you were reading the words of a persecuted minority – perhaps the Jews in Nazi Germany, for instance. No-one ever seems to step out into the open. Those who do are rather brave, in this context because, clearly, the others seem to think there is something to fear, something to be avoided, in such openness. Though, I must point out, I have never seen anyone openly identify themselves or their family, on such boards. It is only the occasional one who appears in the media, who is identified. The rest of the gifted world proceeds in total anonymity.
This behaviour of the gifted community cannot have emerged without reason. The fact that they behave as if they must hide themselves and their nature, from general view, does show that the gifted are not entirely understood, or accepted, or perhaps, even welcome. Perhaps they face envy or incomprehension in their own communities. Perhaps they don’t want their children to be known as gifted, in case it makes them outsiders, or makes them victims of jealousy. Perhaps they act as they do because they have experienced genuinely unpleasant situations in their own lives, because of their giftedness. One, or several of these reasons must apply, for it is strange that a whole community should behave like this. They would not do so without concrete reason.
The silence of the gifted is a symptom that the gifted are not universally welcome, tolerated or accepted. It is not evidence, as some might argue, that nothing is wrong – it is proof that something is not right. If the gifted felt secure in their position in society, many would feel comfortable to identify themselves on forums and message boards. That none do, is a worrying sign. The gifted clearly feel marginalized or insecure, in some ways. This is not how it should be. Now, the irony of this situation is quite clear – for there is only one way that the gifted can ever truly be accepted, by all and take their fullest place in society: that is if some among them, speak out, consistently, over time, so as to educate the public that there are such people in their community, that they are different, but that these differences are good, acceptable and helpful for the society around them. The gifted are able to contribute significantly to their communities. However, not all of them shall, if they grow up feeling a need to hide themselves away. Some gifted people never contribute in the way that they could, because they learn that they should “dumb down” to “fit in”. No-one should have to do that, just to be accepted. Everyone should feel free to be themselves, without risk of censure. Sadly, many gifted people don’t feel free to be themselves, openly, in public. They fear what people will think and how they will react to them. So, they learn to appear dumber and more ordinary than they really are. They pretend not to know when they do. They live lives false to themselves, just so that others will like them. They fear that to show their true thoughts and feelings, would be to lose them all these “friends” they have won by their pretence. What they fail to realize, though, is that no-one can live a life of fulfillment, if it means that one’s true self must be hidden and denied. These people will only be truly happy if they are honest and open about themselves. Should this cost them “friends”, then so be it. The friends that remain will truly be friends and that is what counts. The others are just a waste of time.
Many people have written to me, since I started blogging. Many of them are very pleasant, interesting and interested. Their words have been, at times, comforting, enlightening, refreshing. I have, in turn, tried to help them, with my own advice, in whatever ways I can. Sometimes, however, I receive comments from people whose very sanity I could not vouch for. Their words are harsh, aggressive, offensive, cruel, frequently paranoid, and consistently incomprehending. They simply don’t “get” my blog. They don’t understand why I write it. They don’t see the value in it. Sometimes, they don’t even believe a word of it. They seem to think I am making it up. They cannot accept that there are people in the world like the ones I write of. Not only that, but they are angry that I should write of such things and such people – as if, their existence, would somehow be threatening to them, or personally offensive. Some of these comments are so unpleasant, that they put me off writing for days on end. They are sickening to read. Yet, through receiving them, I understand why the gifted are often so secretive on the internet – and why they are relatively silent in society. They have reason to be. To step out into the open, is to discover that the world is filled with madmen, whose agenda appears to be to deny the existence of the gifted – or, at least, to taunt them, decry them and frustrate them in any way that they can.
All of this behaviour calls to mind how geniuses have so often been treated in history. Most people recall the names of history’s geniuses, but few people know the details of their lives. Too often, these lives were filled with much conflict, much hostility, little welcome and much incomprehension. These geniuses often spent their lives battling against those who opposed their every thought. Their lives must have been far from comfortable, or even pleasant at times. It is that kind of life, perhaps, that the gifted are seeking to avoid, by adopting their habitual secrecy and discretion, and living lives of relative silence.
Yet, such secrecy, discretion and silence prevent the fullest expression of a gifted person’s gifts. None of history’s geniuses won out by being as they are. So, the gifted must choose a quiet, but not entirely fulfilled life, though a safe one, or a more open, potentially more fulfilled one, with all the risks attendant on being out in the public. That is a choice that each individual must make. Only those of a particular type of personality are likely to be suited to the more public life. All others would find it uncomfortable. I am not about to advise which one should choose – for that is up to each individual, or gifted family. However, everyone should be aware of the consequence of those choices and act knowing, beforehand, what might happen as a result. At least, then, one’s decisions can be informed by knowledge.
I intend to continue to speak out on all issues related to giftedness – even if this is uncomfortable at times. I have made my choice – and I feel it is a necessary choice. It is also one which can be helpful to many people, whether they realize it or not.
Do you know what is particularly ironic about this situation, however? Some of the gifted have written against me and my open approach, on the internet. They think I should be like them, and just keep quiet. That is truly sad. They just don’t understand how valuable it can be to have someone speak out, and raise awareness and understanding of the issues facing the gifted. By providing one public example of the situation, many people come to be better informed of the needs of the gifted – and, therefore, more likely to meet those needs. I have, whether they know it or not, done my detractors a service, by speaking out (or writing out, in fact!) as I have. Perhaps, on a more reflective future day, they might come to understand that.
There is a need for me to write, until such time, as the gifted forums, are filled not with people in hiding, but people in the open, people who feel safe enough to identify themselves, people who feel comfortable living open lives, fully revealing of themselves, in a world that accepts them, as they are – and welcomes them for it. Until that day, I shall write on. After that day, perhaps there will no longer be a need.
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