I’ve never had my IQ measured. Have you? I’m not going to ask people to share results, but I’m curious as to how many of us have been tested. How about a quick poll?
Everybody knows what IQ is: a measure of how smart you are. We use it to measure both ends of the spectrum: genius starts at 130 or 140; mental retardation starts at 70 and goes down from there.
People with Down syndrome are often really emotionally intelligent. When I’m asked to talk about Julianna, one thing that always comes up is her ability to connect with people. She’s all heart, both good and bad–when it’s bad, the world is ending, even if it’s just a scraped knee. But oh, how she loves. And loves complete strangers as well as loved ones and friends.
We went to visit my grandmother on the 4th of July, when she was recovering in the nursing home. I remember visiting my great-grandfather in a nursing home when I was about her age. I found it positively terrifying. As we walked in the door, Alex and Nicholas clearly felt the same intimidation. Their body language sucked inward; Nicholas drew very near my side and didn’t venture away as we passed the ring of elderly in their wheelchairs, sitting in the foyer. One man smiled widely and tried to engage us in conversation. The boys shrank.
Julianna, however, made a beeline for him. “Oh, hi gway gee-paw, hi!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. (Great grandpa.) “I be see!” (I be six.) Of course, he had no earthly idea what she had said, but his face lit up. A brief encounter that brightened his day and gave her joy.
She seems to find the person in any room who most needs a hug, and if you’re crying she comes right over to comfort you. “Doh cwy, Mahk-oh,” she’ll say to Michael, who is less than enthusiastic about her as a comforter; his favorite people in the world are, in order: Mommy, Alex, and Daddy.
It’s hard to measure emotional intelligence by any objective standard, but even considering that, we as a society place little value on this trait. And that’s a shame, because it’s at least as important as the more traditional form of intelligence. Maybe more so. Intelligence is great, but empathy, compassion, kindness–these are the things that make life worth living.
As a society, we pay lip service to the importance of people with intellectual disabilities, but I’m not sure we really mean it. What we value is the high IQ. Everybody wants to meet, shake the hand of, and honor people of high intelligence. People whose contributions can be measured in dollar signs or publicity or glory. The overflowing person-to-person love shown by people with low IQs and high EQs makes us uncomfortable. They don’t always understand and observe the conventions and boundaries the rest of us cling to.
For me as a parent of a child whose love knows no bounds (except dogs. She’s terrified of dogs), I face a daily conflict. I want her to learn that the rules apply to her, too. Yet in some ways I think the boundaries are a little silly, and worse, they force her to dampen that which makes her most valuable to the world.
I suppose my point is that we really ought to rethink the things we prize. High IQ is good. Achievement is good. But neither of those is more important than empathy, kindness, or compassion. We have things we can and should learn from people we label as “retarded,” “simple-minded,” “handicapped” and all other manner of dismissive, derogatory labels. Because a lot of times, they’re way better than we are at the things that matter most.