If you have seen the film, you may remember that Forrest Gump’s mother told him that “stupid is as stupid does.” And you will remember that, although Forrest was simple and unsophisticated, he was anything but stupid. On the contrary, his simplicity and directness enabled him to do some very intelligent things that helped a lot of people. What most struck me about Forrest was that he never did anything bad.
Forrest Gump showed us that you do not need to be smart and sophisticated to be intelligent. You just have to behave wisely and well. Being intelligent, in the conventional sense, is no guarantee that you will behave wisely and well. All of us can think of examples of “intelligent” people, in politics, in business, and in life in general, who behave stupidly or badly or both. Forrest’s mother could equally have said “intelligent is as intelligent does.”
There is absolutely no point in being intelligent in theory. If you behave wisely and well, you are intelligent. If you behave stupidly or badly, you are not intelligent. For me, it is as clear as that.
The question, then, is: what can you do to make it more likely that you will behave wisely and well? To express this another way, what can you do to be more intelligent? In the courses I run on “Being Intelligent”, people tell me that there are some things that they find very helpful. I will outline three of these in this article, and some more in Part two.
Only when you are really “quiet inside” can you be truly intelligent. This is because your mind is at peace, you are emotionally calm, and you do not feel any internal pressure to rush into decision or action. Of course, there are times when we are under pressure or when we are surrounded by noise or disturbed people. When this happens, it is even more important to be quite inside. You will find your own way to do this. It is important that you do.
Keep it Simple
Forrest Gump was naturally simple. You may have to work on it! When I say “simple”, I do not mean dumb. I mean the opposite. Simplicity is one of the hallmarks of real intelligence. In practice, it means many things, and these include:
Keep your mind uncluttered
Use simple language, and as few words as possible
Do only what’s necessary. Avoid activity (and work) for its own sake
Apply the Law of Reverse Effort
Look and Listen
In his poem “Leisure”, William Davies asks “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”
In this busy, noisy world today, where too much of our time and attention is focused on media, phones and computers, we seem to have lost the knack of simply looking and listening. As someone once said “People don’t listen any more. They reload!”
As I will say again and again, the foundation of all real intelligence is awareness (or consciousness, if you prefer). The more aware you are, the more intelligent you are likely to be. And you will increase you awareness only if you make a habit of looking and listening.