Is genius a value? If we define values as those traits, beliefs, and principles that drive our behavior, let’s say it is.
Today, let’s focus on the positive side of genius and the attributes of one genius who brings out the best in us. My example of a true genius is my friend and colleague, Larry Hedges. Larry, currently a professor with an endowed chair at Northwestern University, is a certifiable genius by any measure. He earned his PhD at Stanford, was the youngest department chair in statistics at the University of Chicago, has published a myriad of professional papers and books in the discipline of statistical meta-analysis, and he is a sought-after consultant by industry and multiple departments in the US Government. His achievement awards are simply too numerous to list here.
Larry’s genius is best portrayed, however, not in his incredible accomplishments, but in the way he deals with us normal people. He is kind, generous, welcoming, and has the unique ability to explain complicated information in ways that make it easy for people in the middle of the bell curve to understand. When you are with Larry, he is truly with you. You are the focus of his attention whether discussing the wonders of the universe, scores of a baseball game, or favorite cars at the auto show.
Larry does not multi-process. He is systematic and clear, bringing the most unsophisticated learner along at a pace and level appropriate to the situation. He was the best person I ever saw working with African kids and teachers during the apartheid era in South Africa, where he and I were building a community-based tutoring program to teach basic skills in math, science, and English to children who, by law, were not permitted an equal education.
Genius may be an innate ability described by the number of standard deviations above the mean on IQ and achievement tests, but the attributes of a person who is a genius defines the worth of being someone special who uses his or her talent in thoughtful and meaningful ways. Whether we are geniuses or not, it’s all about how we can apply kindness, generosity, and being welcoming to everyone we meet.