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Genius vs stupidity!

Huzaima Bukhari

“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits”— Unknown

Intelligence is nobody’s exclusive domain nor is dumbness unique to a single person unless one is mentally challenged. Someone can be academically bright but may not have an aptitude for practicality. Another may be adept in music for example but could be totally indisposed to managing personal relationships. Yet there may be many who are blessed with wisdom which in turn is a combination of knowledge, experience and thorough understanding of various things together with an acute sense of forbearance towards life’s erratic behavior. Others recognize such sagacious ones on interactions and where their wisdom is required to sort out different problems occurring at different times. Again, it may not be necessary that only a qualified person or a degree-holder is wise. Even a rustic uneducated farmer could be gifted with untold and unthinkable wisdom.

One of the most prominent characteristics of wise persons is the air of optimism that they are endowed with that enables them to face not only life’s difficulties with fortitude but also helps them to take their toughest decisions with a cool mind. Overall, although intelligence is important for wisdom, it is not sufficient by itself unless it is accompanied with the skills to grasp the big picture, with sense of proportion and the uncommon trait of soul searching. These things go a long way in developing far-sightedness which as a consequence, establishes the much-needed balance in a person’s life in matters of his inter-personal relationships and other aspects of life that depicts his level of wisdom.

To put it in lighter terms, it takes intellect, time, experience and understanding to become wise but as far as stupidity is concerned it cannot be learnt. In fact, it is a natural attribute that remains with the person for as long as he or she does not consciously resolve to overcome it. Such people are easily recognizable by their behavior, the way they converse and conduct themselves with members of their family, their friends, colleagues and the general public. Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi is quoted as saying that a wise man sleeps less, eats less and talks less. So the rationale is quite obvious that a person who sleeps a lot, eats a lot and talks a lot may not be stupid but he definitely is not wise.  Besides, the gullible ones are those who do not use their own intellect to distinguish between right and wrong.

All around there are myriads of acts of stupidity that we see every day. These are most prominent in governments, political circles, the media, social gatherings, roads, educational institutions, employments, homes etc. In short, stupidity that really has no bounds, can be found in abundance in our world in general (USA under Trump or North Korea under Kim Jong-un for example) and in our illustrious country in particular. More than ignorance, we are presently engulfed in a thick fog of short-sightedness and dullness because of which the common man is forced to run around like a headless chicken. With an uncontrolled explosive population in need of food, education and health without adequate resources, there appears no light at the end of the tunnel for the majority, while the resourceful few are least bothered to discharge their obligations as citizens of this country knowing very well that when the time comes they can easily rush to their foreign refuges where they have already stocked up their real wealth.  

Since stupidity knows no limits, we have witnessed how, with a promising future and a most patriotic people, a budding country that was taking off vertically with full gusto went suddenly into reverse gear crushing its wheels of progress. To make matters worse, the shock waves prompted an unprecedented brain drain and flight of capital leaving the country bleeding with bad governance, poor development and a bleak future with the reins of control in the hands of rulers who lack wisdom that reflects in their actions and words. Once in power, broken promises, false illusions, hypocrisy, nepotism, become the ‘crowning glory’ of rulers after seducing their voters with enchanting pictures of the future. A statement of wisdom of Hazrat Imam Ali (AS) should further elaborate on the significance of wisdom in its true sense. He says: “A person’s intellect becomes apparent through his dealings, and a man’s character is known by the way he exercises authority.”

Had wisdom reigned supreme, such rulers would not have been elected in the first place but then wisdom has its limits and unless someone is tried and tested it is not possible to arrive at any concrete conclusions. Another apt quote by Hazrat Ali (AS) for this situation: “Use your intellect to understand something when you hear about it—the intellect that examines, that is, and not just the intellect that repeats what it hears, for surely there are many who repeat the knowledge that they hear, and there are few who examine it.” So, the difference here is as mentioned in yet another remarkable quote: “The first opinion of the person of intellect is the last opinion of an ignorant person.”

Another occasion where stupidity could actually be seen to have no limits was a few years back in 2012, when Agha Waqar Ahmad hit the headlines with his invention of a car that could run on water. On the bandwagon of trumpet blowers were famous politicians, leading media personalities and renowned scientists who were besides themselves with joy on this ‘ingenious’ discovery.  According to a news item appearing in The Tribune, dated 3 August 2012 where question of scientific frauds in Pakistan was answered in the following words: “…..our leaders are lost in the dark, fumbling desperately for a miracle; our media is chasing spectacle, not truth; and our great scientists care more about being important than about evidence. It is easy for them all to get away with this. As a nation, we have proven unwilling to do the hard work needed to learn to reason, to be sceptical, to demand proof, to understand even basic science. It is easier to believe the world is run by magic and conspiracies, to wish and wait for Aladin’s magic lamp. We live in the age of jahilliya (ignorance).”

What a drop scene to a most nonsensical episode of this country!

How appropriately Hazrat Ali (AS) says that intellect is what arrives at what is correct through reasoning and recognizes what has not yet happened through what has already taken place.

Winding up this discussion in Hazrat Ali’s (AS) words: “The one who has an intellect finds harshness of life amongst persons of intellect more agreeable than a life of ease amongst the foolish.”


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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