The dark side of any natural gift is undoubtedly its potential to ruin you. In the course of this answer, I hope to show that being showered with natural gifts can spoil a person’s outlook, and ultimately destroy their future, as artificial gifts similarly can.
But such an answer is justified only by its own wealth of experience, by its own perspective; my perspective. And therefore does not pretend to speak accurately for those gifted in ways that I can only dream of. I am young, of course, and with much to learn, but for most of my life I have been singled out as intellectually gifted, and so it is with that gift in mind that I will proceed.
If there is to be a “dark side” of “being gifted”, then there must, logically, be a light side; for dark can make no sense without light. I begin, therefore, with a brief look at the benefits such a gift will bring.
What good is an intellectual gift? What benefits does it bring? For one thing, it takes the hard-work out of early education. A gifted person can forego study, and still emerge with good grades.
For another, a strong intellect is capable of summoning answers to questions that others haven’t even formulated. A gifted person is always a few steps ahead. The intellect grants an impressive ability to get exactly what one desires, whether it be through trickery, cunning, or logical analysis.
But, as we shall see, every virtue can become a vice if left to corrupt in a barren state of neglect.
Gifted folk tend toward laziness, and eventually to self-hate. The stereotypical smart-lazy kid is everyone’s dream nightmare. It’s an easy position to envy from afar.
After all, why would anyone want to work hard? Working hard is hard-work — that’s analytic! But often, smart kids become accustomed to having it all, and without any effort; they become addicted to success, but lack the ethic to succeed consistently.
They are a junkie without the means to score another bag. It becomes only a matter of time before the symptoms of withdrawal begin to appear. That most revered inner light of reason, the thing which once shone the way to prestigious understanding, turns on its master, and shows itself to be the perfect interrogation light, when aimed at the imperfections of the human spirit.
For the intellectual powers, if under-nourished, are quick to cannibalise; and in the privacy of one’s own mind, there is nowhere for the lonesome occupant to hide.
The gift of intellect is one to be used wisely, as it becomes a weapon in the wrong hands. It must be kept entertained, well-fed and thoroughly exercised, lest it begin to corrupt itself. But to assume that ‘what one desires’ is a worthy pursuit at all, is often the first mistake.
For youthful desires are capricious. It is easy to be tempted by games of avarice and comfortable pleasure, but these are soulless ends. And we see again how a blessing turns so easily to curse.
For the ability to manipulate reality to one’s own purpose, provides the perfect vehicle for temptation. And what tempts us is often nought more than the empty trophies that accompany a warped sense of pride. The misused intellect is one that is let loose on loved ones, one which resents the world in its unbearable stupidity, and one which chooses to fight all the wrong battles for all the wrong reasons.
Hence, getting what you want all the time is a dangerous game, for it becomes an end in itself. You become an all-consuming leviathan. The manipulative urge yields short-lived pleasure, but sows long-lived chaos. A chaos that will turn what you truly want to ash as you reach for it.
Intellectuals are often drunk on self-importance. And the sine qua non of the ferocious ego is a weaponised intellect pulling the strings backstage. The ego is projected into the world through smug expressions carved deeply into the face, barbed retorts that sting the ears of strangers, and the malice-glossed gaze that sends unspoken warnings to all who dare meet it.
The ego hungers to dominate and to decimate, to oppress and to suppress, to conquer, claim, and parade; to announce to the world both its gravitas and its stature. It thinks highly of itself. The ‘I’ behind the scenes cries out to be more than a mere perspective on the world.
It yearns for permeable essence, for ontological status. But a ferocious ego speaks volumes about things it would rather you not know. In arrogance it lays bare nought but insecurity; in cold malice it betrays a longing for warmth and affection; and in moments of callous disregard, we learn of its desire for recognition.
Even in the act of being egotistical, the intellectual acts counter to his own intentions. For the ego is projected as a form of defence; it is an attempt to assert and defend one’s status. But the ego serves only itself, for it acts only in its own defence. And in adopting a defensive stance, it makes us susceptible to jealousy and hate, as we become embroiled in affairs that are, in reality, of no consequence.
To dissolve the ego is to inoculate ourselves against the turbulence inherent to worldly affairs. For without an ego there is nothing left to defend, and thus no childish games left for us to play.
The inner life of the egotistical intellectual is stained by anxiety. A mind that answers questions before others have asked them, is a mind that never breathes a sigh of welcomed inertia; it is a mind set in a state of endless flux. And the motion sickness can be quite terrifying.
For an ability to connect the dots quickly is, all things considered, a net positive; yet one cannot choose to unsee those same patterns. And one cannot choose when to recognise patterns and when not to recognise patterns. This fact is particularly salient with regard to social engagements.
For a person gifted with a degree of intellect often falls prey to social anxiety, and the supreme intellect is often inclined toward paranoia: the chronic, uncontrollable recognition of imaginary patterns. An example of the former can be found sitting quietly at the back of any classroom in any country.
Whereas the latter can be found in popular culture, in the mathematician John Nash, as portrayed in the film, A Beautiful Mind. In which Nash, a brilliant mathematician, suffers paranoid delusions and schizophrenic episodes. A dramatic, almost hyperbolic, caricature though this may be, there is still an underlying truth to this picture of the tortured intellect.
Genius and madness are, indeed, but two sides to the same coin.
The “dark side” to any gift, therefore, is to be located in the totalising tendency of its virtue. If left unchecked, a runaway intellect will rot a person from the inside out, and can render them manipulative and cold, or outright insane; likewise, the gift of strength can mean that violence all too often replaces the white dove of diplomacy, and thus destroys everything we originally fought to protect; the very same totalising effect can occur when, in an effort to keep the whole world laughing, a gifted comedian embraces a burden that forbids their own happiness.
The dark side of being gifted is not a given, it arises out of misuse or neglect. And thus self-discipline should serve as a token of gratitude for the favour that fortune has shown you. Become the master of your talents, lest they master you.
Author: Lewis Whelan, 2019