Think it's not possible? Giftedness is such an amazingly complex set of characteristics that are put together in so many unique ways, it seems almost impossible to put together a description that takes into account the many variables and yet still manages to capture the essence of what it means to be gifted. Dr. Linda Silverman (of the Gifted Development Center in Colorado) has created such a paragraph. I've been coming back to it for several days, because it's clear that she has taken her years of experience with gifted children and adults, and has been able to describe (not define!) the key characteristics that uniquely identify gifted individuals (although I do not think her intent is to use this for identification). Here is what she says:
"Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!" ~ Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman
"Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work."
My kidlet is not what people in the educational realm would call a "high achiever." He simply does not care what you think of what he does - but he cares very deeply what HE thinks of what he does. He doesn't understand jumping through hoops to prove his intelligence. He simply wants to learn and live on his own terms. I fluctuate between agreeing with his assessment that there are a lot of really stupid educational requirements out there that he won't need in order to be a really great biologist and engineer; and realizing that in order to GET THERE, the easier path is college, and college requires jumping through those very same really stupid hoops.
"You think differently."
I just caught my kidlet giggling over The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Now, I realize it's been a while since I read it - but I don't seem to remember there being too many humorous parts. But something caught in his imagination, and made him laugh. I remember far too well the many times in school when it was painfully clear that I was not thinking the way I was expected to - so I try to support that uniqueness in my child. Still not sure what he thought was funny - but I'll hear about it soon, I'm sure (see below on truthfulness).
"You experience life intensely."
Hoo boy. Yeah. Everything is big. One of my favorite stories about my kidlet was the time I rearranged the dining room while he was at preschool. He came home and walked into the room (a room we do not use often), and said, "Mommy! You rearranged the furniture! My perfect life is RUINED!" Intense. More. Big.
"You care about injustice."
Leave it to my then-5 year old child to unify his combined first/second grade classroom under the banner of the "Save the Germs Club." They spent recesses by the school-yard fence, building a safehouse for all the germs their parents and teachers were so carefully telling them to wash away. When asked how he knew the germs were in there, he rolled his eyes and said, "Mommy, germs are EVERYWHERE, and they're not all bad." He studied about viruses and bacteria, and was convinced that we were destroying all the good guys in the efforts to get rid of the bad guys. "It's just not FAIR!"
"You seek meaning."
Yeah, the meaning the kidlet seeks in his immature 12yo mind isn't exactly the kind of meaning the rest of us think about when we go searching for it. But it is there. I see it when he says that if he had only one day to live, he would spend it by writing down all of his creations (which are mostly military vehicles at this point in his life) and would email them over to Boeing, "to keep them out of the hands of our enemies." In his own way, he wants be part of making a better tomorrow for his world.
"You appreciate and strive for the exquisite."
This one is harder to find in my kidlet, but only because his definition of "exquisite" is so vastly different than mine. He would describe the process of photosynthesis as "exquisite." He finds beauty in the molecular structure of titanium ("it's so STRONG! But I want to create a substance that is even stronger!"). He sees patterns where others see only chaos. Traditional beauty means nothing to him - he sees beauty in symmetry, in form, in function. And he designs all of his creations to live up to those standards.
"You are painfully sensitive."
I'm going to leave this one (mostly) alone for now, but with a warning when dealing with gifted people - a careless word or action can crush the spirit. It's only now that we are homeschooling that we can see our happy kid begin to creep out from the hard shell of anger and frustration that had become his demeanor since starting school. Like a turtle tentatively slipping the tip of his nose out from his shell, that happy kid is coming back. But it's a long, slow process.
"You are extremely complex."
Yeah - don't even go there. People think they can throw around a few labels and define the kidlet. But he will defy that definition every time. He is more than a brain, more than a set of behaviors, more than a sweet boy who loves to give and get hugs. He is a complex human being - a whole person. And he won't let you forget it.
"You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble."
I laughed out loud when I read this part. My kidlet regularly tells me when he's done something he knows he's not supposed to. My sister laughed over the holidays when she overheard this conversation,
Me: "We are going out, you can play your computer game while we're gone, even though you've used up all of your screen time already today." Kidlet: "Yay!... Um, to be honest, Mommy - I would have played my computer game anyway."
My sister listened carefully to see how I would respond (I sighed and said, "I know, but thanks for being honest" and gave him a hug before we left). I always know when I get that "to be honest..." phrase that he is going to tell me something that I don't want to hear. But I'm glad he tells me. This is why I trust his accounts of things that happened or when he gets into trouble - he might try to paint himself in a better light, but he always tells the truth. Even when he's trying to get away with something, he ends up telling the truth and much of the time suffering for it. (This is also a maturing issue that we are working on - because he absolutely cannot stand it when an someone is explaining something wrong, so he will correct them. This doesn't go over well with many adults.)
It is my hope that, as my kidlet grows older, he will seek out and find those people who don't think there is something "wrong" with him. People who accept him for who he is, even if they don't understand it. I pray daily that he will grow to trust himself, and accept who he is despite the many people who misunderstand, who want to label, who want to find a "fix" for him. He doesn't need fixing. He needs understanding.
Thank you, Dr. Silverman, for 50 beautiful words.