465: “Only connect!”, that was the whole of her sermon

“Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.

Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”

Yet another thought, because I seem to be on an unlikely roll today. As it is, it’s 4am in the morning and it’s a Thursday night. No, I still have to work tomorrow. Why do you ask? Insomnia rarely gives a shit as to whether you are a fully-functioning, contributing member of society. I sometimes think to myself that insomnia is a rabid predator stealthily prowling around and only hunting down semi-useful members of society. Like me.

What I wanted to say was — this. While I’ve never shouted it from the mountaintop, I don’t think it is any secret to most people that I am fairly intelligent.  (But I’m trying very hard to not sound like a total asshole.) Or maybe even above-averagely, mostly quite intelligent, even though for years I have been surrounded by people whose brains work at the speed of light and whose minds grasp instinctively what I cannot even contemplate. Like, you think you’ve seen smart. But you haven’t Seen Smart, not until you meet these people whom I’m privileged to call my friends. I was raised from the outset that there is no shame in being smart, and not the way that causes adults to circle around you appreciatively while nodding above your head to your parents in approval over your good results (not that I got much of those…). Not the kind of smart that manifests itself in straight As through hibernation in a library cubicle and a slew of prefectorial badges (because, let’s face it, have you ever met a prefect who wasn’t also a smartypants?). But it was good to be interesting. To know things. To be able to articulate them. And in the usual, mummy-loves-you kind of way, I was also taught that while you’re not ugly by any stretch of the word, if you’re not as pretty as the others anyway, you might as well be smarter than all the rest. Competitive advantage, so to speak. There should, at the very least, be one redeeming characteristic to carry you through the rest of your life.

So. GEP. My cousin asked me a few years back, back when her own daughter was on the cusp of social ostracism, what I thought about this entire programme and whether I would encourage anyone else to accept. My answer, while long and convoluted in most parts, was abbreviatedly yes. At the end of the day I found that I took more out of it than I thought it would give me, notwithstanding the attendant social stratification that inevitably came with it. In the early years almost everyone I hung out was from GEP, no doubt fuelled by the fact that nobody else wanted to hang out with us. (And sometimes, I wonder whether the stereotypical social awkwardness begins with #1’s inherent lack of social awareness or with #2’s prejudicial actions. And of course that particular debate still rages.) As we grew up, the more socially capable of us began slowly, fashionably, to disguise these roots. And admitting that you once had such a label attached to you became a mark of shame, a sign that maybe you too were “weird”, just like all the rest, but not so weird because I’m here hanging out with all of you, and I’m normal and actually pretty cool, right?!

So it is, now. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to deny it nor its pervasive influence on my life. Certain things (mostly useless things) I would never have known, but for it. Mayan numerology? Check. Greek mythology? Check. Reading White Papers in primary school? Check. Knowing what a gerund is? Also check. To the ever-curious, it is a treasure trove of information, and one they are at liberty to hand to you if only because they can be sure that you will have time to also ace all your other exams just like normal people. (Side observation: The common thread throughout my education has been for people to teach us how to get an A+. What was pressurising was that they expected you to be able to reach the A in the first place, without any help. But seriously, who the fuck knew?!!) But nowadays it still makes me feel a bit weird to admit that I am a GEP if only because there is a predictable backlash or response. It is a bit like coming out of the closet, since everyone is happy to rattle on around you about how they hate x class of people, and then an awkward silence ensues when someone mentions that you are one of those too, and somebody else goes yeah, but you’re okay, you’re cool. It’s still taken me years to figure out the phenomenon of this entire programme and how it affects the psyche of the current generations who have lived through its existence. Like most other things, this is just a component part of me, and it is, like the part of me that is a female or a lawyer or an only child, neither something to be excessively proud nor excessively ashamed of. And no person knows better than people like us that intelligence may not be defined solely by a particular attribute, and certainly not by anybody’s inability to qualify for a much-vaunted spot in this esteemed (ahem) programme. There are failures here too, and plenty of successes elsewhere.

I think what is the real secret is that most people have no idea of their own intelligence. Partly because the system is such that it validates only a few and is inevitably prone to making some errors in judgement. I’m not sure if anyone in this world actually feels as if not getting in means that their general worth is somehow diminished but part of me feels there is always some residual bitterness for those people who really tried (and then failed) to get in. I think most people don’t even really care, which is the way it should (and I hope it will) be. When you are Primary 3 the world seems to be full of much better things to think about. These are sometimes the ones who go, “yah you are GEP and so what?” though other times and maybe most times the people saying this phrase are pissed off at the way some GEPs walk around everybody else with an inflated sense of their own worth, made worse by the fact that the system has been telling them the same thing all these years. But this phenomenon is not GEP-specific. Most people go on to do wonderful things with or without the benefit of this programme, and even as we strive to maintain some sense of humility, there is no need to pretend that some people are not better than others. But this is not about the programme and instead about all the other people who fell through the cracks, where there lives inside them a well of untapped potential. It is about confidence. Believing you are intelligent is the first step. I think that is something that a hierarchical system inevitably erodes from you. Because there must always be somebody who is more intelligent than the other. And it feels good, does it not? You know it does. There’s no doubt a B is good enough for most people but are you really going to lie and say it doesn’t feel awesome when you find out you topped the class? The mindset, for better or worse, filters through all the way down. I have heard too many times parents and children alike sounding altogether too smug that they are in EM1. Or Special Stream. Did well enough to go to [insert name of top school]. Applied for and received about 5 scholarships and dithering over which one to accept, to the exasperation of all their friends. And always, always comparing against some other unfortunate child(ren) who were not so blessed to have charted the same course. I am trying to say just that intellectual superiority is not really something all that exclusive to a certain class of people, and the best of us are guilty of it at some point, and that the system itself creates a latent bitterness and resentment in most people because for some reason or another, they’ve just barely missed the next higher rung. When you are that person, you may find yourself thinking you are somehow not good enough. That there is something missing from you that the others have. So much the better for them and too fucking bad for you. I have been that person. As have we all, since we all stand in relative comparison to everybody else. It is not a crime to be smart or not as smart. These types of value judgements are not worth much. And the line of questioning is wrong. It should be: so what if you are not GEP? Or in EM1? Or in a top school? So what if you didn’t graduate with straight As, or go to university, or win a million scholarships? So what if you are not a doctor, so what if you don’t drive a BMW, and so what if you didn’t make partner in 7 years? A person’s potential is more than all these comparisons, and the people who best withstand these comparisons are the ones who realise the full worth of their own potential. And so, the conclusion: being GEP proves nothing. For better or worse, the GEP thing is an illustration of what is wrong with the system. It simply focuses the discussion from the parallel larger issues.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I search endlessly for potential connections, and whether for better or worse, it seems that any potential kindred spirits of the above-averagely-intelligent person must necessarily connect with them in a deeply visceral sort of way. And we are often greatly excited at the prospect of finding such a person, so it disturbs me when people shun the potential comparisons to a GEP student (which is just like any other comparison, really) which is effectively slamming on the door on potential relationships. It makes me sad because nobody was trying to insult you. Because all we are saying, when we say you think and/or speak like a GEP, is that your brain works in quite the same way as ours. (Not that you are acting in the same strange manner, or that you are a weirdo, have social problems, are slightly fucked up, or are just being an arrogant piece of shit, like you think most GEPs are.) To me being GEP is having a particular state of mind. It is not about being this awkward social construct shaped by other people’s impressions. It is meant to be a compliment, not an insult, in a world where connections of this sort are few. I mean, who spouts philosophy in a random conversation? Or knows useless information about the state of the current drug cartel in Brazil and the contribution of certain models of machine guns to the war efforts or even the economic theory that drives statistics in baseball leagues? And most importantly, all without thinking that it is weird, even if on some other thought plane, it most definitely may be weird? (Although, fine, I admit that on some thought planes, it does mean you are a weirdo, have social problems, are slightly fucked up, or are just being an arrogant piece of shit. Especially if you are saying all this to someone who is completely uninterested in anything you have to say. Which I suppose simultaneously proves and disproves my point.) It probably doesn’t come out the way it should, but somehow there is no other way to say it other than the way it is currently being said, because no other analogy quite adequately and instinctively summarises the thought processes and societal impressions that flow through both your head and mine. The fact was, most of you were always one of us. And most of us were always one of you.

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