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, July 11, 2012

Being ordinary or extraordinary.

What is the difference between being ordinary or being extraordinary? Sometimes they are one and the same.

I once wrote about the gifted child’s viewpoint of others, in a post, “Gifted or Impaired?”. My basic contention in that post was that a gifted child may not conceive of themselves as gifted, but of everyone else as “impaired”. I had an interesting conversation with Ainan a couple of days ago, which called to mind that post.

I had come to understand that Ainan had a strange view of his gifts. So, I tried to make him see that what he could do was extraordinary.

“It is all ordinary.”, he retorted. “Everything is ordinary.”

There was an expansiveness in his “everything” that led me to understand something. For Ainan, there are NO extraordinary achievements, in this world – everything is lumped under the “ordinary” title he was bestowing on it.

I tried to counter him, but it was no use. He left the conversation with the same view he had held at the beginning: that everything he had been able to do in his life was “ordinary” – and that, perhaps, everything everyone else had proven able to do was “ordinary” too. Ainan’s inner standard for what would amount to “extraordinary” was so high that nothing and no-one – except perhaps comic book fictional superheroes – could possibly qualify as “extraordinary”.

In a way, I see Ainan’s viewpoint on the matter of what constitutes a special gift, as a defence mechanism. By conceiving all that he has done and can do as “ordinary”, he does not separate himself from others – he can be one among all. I suppose that there is some psychological security in that. He can feel that he belongs, in a way that, perhaps, to an objective outsider, he might not seem to belong at all.

I didn’t press the point. I am comfortable with Ainan’s conception of himself, if it makes him feel more comfortable being who he is, as it seems to. Indeed, his view of himself does rather agree with my understanding that gifted children might not necessarily be able to see their own gifts. Should they try to understand them, they might, instead, come to view others as “less than ordinary” or “impaired”. Ainan has, indeed, come to a version of this understanding. Ainan has come to the view that there is no such thing as extraordinary accomplishment – because he is, of course, benchmarking all such accomplishments against what he can do himself. Given the level of what he can do and does quite casually, nothing, by comparison, seems extraordinary anymore. Hence, he conceives of a very ordinary world, in which there is nothing special in a child being the youngest in the world to have passed O level, or being in College – as he was – at 8 years old. To Ainan, that is all very ordinary.

At this time, therefore, I have a truer understanding of Ainan than he does himself. He does not see the wider world just yet. He has seen only a small sliver of that world – a small, very academic sliver. So, he cannot yet see his place in the fullness of the world. I wonder, now, how he will feel when he comes to the realization  - which is pretty certain to come, one day – that he is very far from ordinary. Will he be able to adjust to such an understanding? Will he live in denial and try to hold onto his view that “everything is ordinary”. We shall see. In the meantime, I won’t raise the matter, again, but will watch, instead, for signs of how his world view is developing.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:23 PM 


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

We tend to have a low standard of what is extraordinary.

At the macro level, I think Ainan is right. Unless we add something to something else, then things are not extraordinary.

It's a great stripped-back outlook.

Subjectivity? Objectivity?

(And I often found superheroes very ordinary!)

5:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The superheroes I had in mind, were the ones who can do things no human can actually do. That would be extraordinary. I am not thinking of the ones who just amount to weight trained beefcake...very ordinary.

Ainan's outlook is of one who is very difficult to impress. Nothing seems unusual to him - and I think this comes from taking himself as "ordinary" and benchmarking everything else against that. By that measure, it is rather difficult for him to think of any achievement as he doesn't.

Has he found greater objectivity through his subjective perspective? That would be an interesting thought...

6:20 PM  

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