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Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

Genius--What is It? Do We Know?

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | Mar 11, 2013 7:36 PM

I was talking with a sociology professor about deviance briefly today. People label as deviant those who don't conform to usual societal norms. That would include many mentally ill, criminal, and annoying, eccentric folks but also great minds who make unusual discoveries, engage in new forms of art, or invent things. There's really a fine line here, though, between "good" deviant and "bad" deviant. Was Janet Joplin great in her talent (and deviant from the norm around her) and "bad" in her drug use and extreme depression and moodiness? What about some weird installation art which looks like Grandma's hoarding disaster but ends up as a museum exhibit? Maybe even, this artist gains reknown and a McArthur fellowship. Who decides what's genius and what's stupidly eccentric and odd?

It's easy to determine that genius exists after an invention changes the world. A theory proven right, like relativity, is a sign of great genius, especially if it's implications and applications work. If Facebook had flopped, would we acclaim its great, young creator a tech phenom? Is the genius the inventor, then, or all the people who ran with the invention and made it work famously? What about the ordinary guy who has a good idea and never does anything with it? He may be smart but genius takes work and perseverence, leading to accomplishment.

That brings me to my point that genius is an elusive concept. It's created by the perception of those who acknowledge and develop it. "It" can be the science, art, or philosophyof someone's efforts. Then, genius, also, involves exactly those efforts, and they are usually extensive, lots of hard work, even obsessive work, work, work. Genius isn't just different in the sense of creative, it's smart, odd, and shifts paradigms. Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Einstein, Darwin, Picasso, not the average gifted kid, were geniuses. Stephen Steilberg is a genius but I don't about Meryl Streep. Most of our politicians definitely aren't. Genius is rare by definition.

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