We sometimes wish we could be more kind. But, the first step to kindness might not involve trying to be nicer. It could be we need to stop trying to be so clever.
There’s a great dramatic moment in the film Now You See Me, when one of the characters, a magician accused of theft, suggests his police interrogators are not up to the task of solving the crime. The magician pulls an amazing trick, throwing the handcuffs that seemed to be restraining him onto one of the officers while proclaiming, “The first rule of magic – always be the smartest guy in the room.”
It’s a clever moment.
It’s also pretty much the opposite of how I want to live. There’s a saying, “if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” I think it’s true; you’re in the wrong room (or you’re deluded). Being the cleverest person in your circle can feel good, depending on your personality, but you will really limit your chances of growing and learning unless you surround yourself with people who are smarter, better and more experienced than yourself.
You Are The People You Meet
It’s kind of pointless to talk about innovation, creativity and inspiration unless we are willing to orient our lives towards growing and expanding our abilities and our sense of what is possible. Being the cleverest person in the room might feel nice, but after a while it’s self-defeating. Pretending to be the cleverest person is just a sad self-delusion.
“I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.”
The really smart move is to be intentional about the people you hang around with. It’s a pattern you often see in people who have sustained artistic success; they start to seek out people who are excellent in other fields. A novice photographer will learn a lot from hanging around other, better photographers. But, once the photographer starts to acquire some mastery of their craft, the big creative bursts may come from meeting film-makers, musicians, writers, scientists, painters, fashion designers, typographers, really anyone who brings a fresh perspective to the creative process and might help the photographer think in new ways about the role and function of photography as an art form.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Lean Away From Cleverness And Towards Kindness
Of course, you will still, on occasion find yourself being the smartest person in the room. It might be by choice, as an employer, teacher, mentor or workshop leader. Or, it could be a curveballs life throws us, someone we meet at a dinner, party or on our travels. The answer to how we should behave in those situations is, in my view, quite simple.
Being kind isn’t the same as niceness or politeness. Being kind is about generosity of spirit. Kindness gives those potentially awkward moments enough time and space to allow them to be fruitful for all concerned. Being kind gives the novice the chance to frame their questions well and the so-called expert the right frame of mind to see the world the way the novice does. The kind person doesn’t rush to fill the spaces between people, crushing those below them patronising contempt, or trying to drag down those above them cynical jealousy.
The clever answer (or put-down) is a device to close off conversation. But, there’s a kind of bad karma in doing that, because the questions we get from beginners (or people who don’t really understand our craft) can sometimes really cut through to the why at the heart of our endeavours. And, the questions from those who have gone far in their craft can make us look hard at our own journey.
Moreover, if we struggle to explain what we do in simple “lay” terms, then it could well mean how we approach our own work isn’t entirely clear in our mind. Sometimes it’s easier to bluff our way through when amongst fellow professionals and experts than when in the company of “ordinary” civilians!
Kindness Is A Path To Freedom/h3>
Some folks sadly become intoxicated with feeling like the smartest person in the room & the stench when they feel threatened is obvious and unpleasant. It’s not long before the conversation stopping attempts at clever wit, dripping with defensiveness and self-justification start to seep out. It’s so sad to watch. It’s even more horrible to realise when we’ve done it ourselves!
Unkind cleverness will hold us back. It stops us from realising the things we don’t really understand, the ways in which we can still grow and evolve. There is a freedom in learning to be kind. It makes moving through the world so much lighter and easier.