Since having kids, I find my ideas and beliefs and constantly being questioned (by them and me). Before answering a question, I have to think 'why do I think like that' because surely enough it will be asked by little people. It's forced me to think more critically about beliefs and ways of thinking that I'd just taken for granted. It's brilliant and, I think, made me a better person.
Now the elder girls are at school there is a lot of talk about "smart". Parents at pick up wonder who are the "smart kids" in the class, are their kids one of them and why or why not? My kids ask if they're smart and they question themselves if they are. I hear talk from other parents about their 'gifted' children, their challenged children, how much homework they do, how advanced or behind they are. Being smart or not smart, it seems, depends on where you're pegged on the chart by the people who are supposed to know about these things.
As an adult I come across people who like to wear their intellect as a badge of honour, they use it like a weapon. They use big words and are completely condescending to those who they don't believe are as "smart"as they are. They are smart therefore they are right. I tend to think that they're probably not as smart as they like to believe.
Then there are people like one of my best friends. Possibly the most academically smart person I know. She has a PhD, she's co-authored a book and has enough cudos to walk around wearing the "smart" badge. But she doesn't. She has empathy, she's curious, she's respectful, she listens. She doesn't always believe she's right. She doesn't need to prove to all she meets that she's "smart". When I was working at New Idea she would much rather talk about Brangelina than her research. She has the confidence in herself to tell you that Sex and the City 2 is a good movie (and that takes confidence!). She's cultivated her own unique voice. And that to me is what makes her really smart.
Recently, I was watching Dave Grohl on YouTube talking at a music convention. I love Dave Grohl. If you have a spare 40 minutes and want to be inspired go and check it out. The speech is aimed at musicians but it can be translated into any aspect of life. It's about the importance of finding your own voice and believing it. Loving it and nurturing it. Not listening to anyone else. He says that he was lucky to be left alone to find his - and it obviously worked as he's been in not one, but two of the biggest rock bands of the past 20 years.
Dave asks why is it up to others to tell us what's right or wrong or good or bad. If it's your voice, if it's what stirs you, then that's what's important. He says imagine if a young Bob Dylan was around today and went on a show like The Voice... And then goes on to say that Gangham Style is one of his most favourite songs of the past decade.
If it's what's right for you that's all that matters. What things we miss when they're categorised as good or bad or wrong. That we all have a voice and it's there for the taking if we want it.
In the car on the way to school the other day, where the kids and I do all our big talks, the girls were talking about religion. Living in the Middle East, it's a topic that comes up a lot. As I pulled into the car park I found myself on the verge of ranting. "The most important thing is not what other people believe, but that you respect that belief. Never laugh at someone's religion. Never make fun of what someone believes because that's them, that's their person, that's who they are," I heard myself saying.
It's a good lesson for myself, because I do sometimes believe I'm smart and right and know best. Don't we all? I'd like to think I'm smart, but let's face it I had to have some explain to me multiple times the premise of the TV show Deal or No Deal (I still don't really get it) and I'm the one still working out five minutes after I've walked way from the cashier if I got the right change or not. Rather than convincing others that I'm right or smart or know best, I should focus more on myself. Inspire rather than hit someone over the head with my "smarts".
So rather than encourage my kids to be smart, I hope I can encourage them to find their voice, their passion. Most of all I hope I can instil the courage to believe in that voice, to work at that voice and find the strength in themselves not to let anyone knock down that voice, because there will always be somebody who knows better waiting with that sledgehammer (and who knows, it might just be me). I hope I can develop their empathy and kindness, so they can inspire others. Imagine being not just able to dance to beat of your own drum, but dance to the beat of your own orchestra.
As for myself, I still want to listen hard and find my voice, my passion because I'm not there yet. As a mother, as a woman, as a person it's really easy to stop listening and stop looking. Instead focus on work or family or washing the dishes or washing the car. I don't think it has to be earth shattering though, a little bit at a time. Surround yourself with people that make you feel good, that inspire you, that make you laugh, that encourage you. Read or listen to something that ignites something in you. Put the smart phone, the iPad, the remote away and just be for five minutes. Then go stir things up. Time to put the listening ears back on.