Genius is a term that is spoken with a certain reverence and may be reserved for people who seem “nerdy.” However, when I hear the word genius, I envision someone who looks like Ann Druyan or Stephen Hawking or Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Each of these individuals have a certain stylized manner of talking and a seemingly unique personality of presentation. In an age where vanity is prized because of Face Book or Twitter or other form of vain expression, it is too easy to be caught in the trap of appearances. Appearing to be a genius but not walking the talk — is a folly of Selfie Generation.
So, how does anyone discern between fake from real?
The answer to the question for any single person comes from observations of actions and their effects upon the immediate surroundings. For people cited above, their reputations are built from the fruits of their labors. They paid their dues for their successes. Lets first delve into reputations and what can be attained from a good reputation while touching briefly upon bad reputations.
Reputations, good or bad, come by word of mouth. Whether by gossip or pleasant news, individual’s reputation tears down or enhances his self-esteem. However, what needs to be born in mind is we can direct our own destinies. Self esteem, while important, is not the sole arbiter of destiny. Moreover, word of mouth is the cheapest avenue by which to build one’s future. However, in a world in which one’s vanity may be tied to self esteem, it is important to remember our goals or achievements are determined by other means. Achieving goals that are not tied directly to how a person sees himself is harder to achieve. However, it is far better to build one’s self esteem through achievement that builds self pride that translates into self esteem.
Polymath (and genius) are words that few hear on a daily basis. In short, someone is a polymath if he possesses deep and broad knowledge. Being a polymath means you may well be a genius. While few of us ever meet someone who possesses such character, let me indulge you with some individuals who have fit the description in the past and present –Lao Tze, Mozart, Cab Calloway, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Bill Gates, Richard Dawkins, Freeman Dyson, John Lennon, I.M. Pei, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Langston Hughs, Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Al DiMeola, and Stevie Wonder(perhaps a Renaissance Man? – it still soon to know) fit the bill of polymath (and genius) — to name just a few. While it is not completely fair to lump genius and polymath in the same category, polymaths are considered geniuses. (However, I will lump the two together for sake of argument in contrast to Renaissance people.)
Then, again, there is another term – Renaissance Man (or Woman). That person goes well beyond genius or polymath. And, the following individuals should be considered Renaissance individuals —Archimedes, Confucius, Buddha, Thomas Aquinas, Sir Thomas More, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, Roald Hoffman, Benjamin Franklin, Carl Djerrassi, Muhammad Ali, Steve Jobs, Bono (from the Rock musical band- U2), Leonardo da Vinci, Jane Goodall, Gloria Steinem, and Neil deGrasse Tyson (just to name a small handful). The primary reasons for such consideration are the following– each person went far beyond their own field of initial endeavor for an all-encompassing genius (in other areas). They were geniuses who went well beyond their initial endeavors.
While the lists (above) seem short, I believe one can get a sense of what terms genius/polymath and Renaissance Man/Woman actually encompass. While some of the names are not familiar all readers — I will fill a few details:
Cab Calloway is jazz musician from the golden age of jazz (he, like Duke Ellington) were genius musicians (and polymaths within music). Their style of music predated “white jazz music” of that time. In fact, with the exception of Gershwin, most mainstream music was inspired by men like Calloway and Ellington. (And, there are many who were not mentioned.) Stevie Wonder, of course, is a contemporary musician. He, like Calloway, and Ellington, I have grouped into genius (and not Renaissance Men) because they have been “shorted by a racist culture” – sadly so.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the terms, polymath and Renaissance Man/Woman:
polymath, n. A person of great or varied learning. Greek polumathēs : polu-, poly- + manthanein, math-, to learn.
Renaissance man/woman, n. A man/woman who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences.
Sadly, knowledge does not determine status in our world. People with status come from different walks of life. However, if there is one factor that determines status in today’s world it is a large public following. To gain a public following, someone needs notoriety or a “reputation.” A reputation is built from the words of others- and sometimes, a reputation can ruin someone’s life.
In a culture where vanity is now prized over substance — how would you want to be remembered by those who love you and you love the most? It is a fair question!