In 1990, Thomas Scheff, professor, and sociologist wrote an article that would later come to change my perspective on life forever. The article was titled “A Theory of Genius”. I came across this eye-opening text in my Senior year of college while taking a course called “Society and the Individual” at the University of Florida. Reading this text along with the accompanying articles by George Herbert Mead and Charles Horton Cooley in my textbook “The Production of Reality” by Jodi O’ Brian opened my eyes to a truth that I had never before considered. Never had a course in college changed my perspective so dramatically as this one did. I had rented the book for class but went out to purchase it to have for myself shortly after reading Scheffs article.
Throughout my studies, I began to recognize all of the ways in which our lives are shaped, molded and programmed by society in ways that are out of alignment with our true Authenticity and our inherent Genius. To begin, the articles I mentioned by Mead and Cooley define what it means to be a “self”. In her book “The Production of Reality” Jodi O’ Brian writes:
“According to the theories of Mead and Cooley, we learn how to recognize ourselves and form impressions of behavior based on how we imagine others think of us. For example, two young students with similar academic ability may learn to think very differently about their student “selves” if one has a teacher who treats the student as if her performance is “inspired” and the other has a teacher who considers his questions to be annoying and stupid. The first student, feeling encouraged and praised, may begin to see herself as having tremendous potential and therefore be inclined to study even harder… the second student is likely to see himself as nonintellectual and be disinclined to study any more than he has to. Significant others, especially in the early stage of development, have a considerable effect on our ideas about who we think we are and what we think we can do.” (p.129)
That is what’s so mind-blowing about the work of both Mead and Cooley. They begin to make a connection between how our external environments influence our internal states of being and vise
The truth is that we are in a constant play of the internal selves and our external environment. How others treat us leads us (especially at an early age) to believe certain things about ourselves. And when we believe these things about ourselves to be true, we then project those “selves” that Mead and Cooley refer to, onto the world. It then begs the question: who are we really? If student A and student B in the above example have the same abilities but are treated differently and therefore interact with themselves and the world around them in entirely different ways due to the influence of their
When we don’t take societies ideas about who we are to heart, we can become more of who we really are. The voice in our heads that is constantly judging ourselves and others is a product of the internalization of our external environments over time in our lives. The voice of society then becomes the voice of “ourselves”. This is the same voice in our heads that says that we should be a different way, that we should look, act and behave differently, that we are not “good enough”, etc. This isn’t really who we are, it is who we think we are.
Insert “A Theory of Genius”. In an attempt to understand what makes a “genius” Scheff makes a groundbreaking observation. Jodi O’ Brian writes: “According to [Sheff’s] theory, ‘genius’ is more likely to occur among those who are able to escape the interactional shaming process that
When we can recognize shaming and when we can look at the voice of society and the voice in our heads for what it is (which is that it is ultimately not the Truth, but a false sense of self that is projected by a wounded society) we can come to know who we really are. When we can drop below our own thoughts, judgments, and criticisms of ourselves and others, we too can become our own kind of genius.
It is true that when Galileo first declared that the Earth was in fact not the center of the universe, he was thrown on house arrest and considered insane. As a child, Einstein was referred to as “the dopey one”. Both were people who “thought outside the box” of society so-to-speak. Both were True genius. We, too, can begin to take charge of our own lives in this way. We may not make discoveries about the universe or laws of physics (maybe some of us will), but we will inevitably discover something just as valuable. We will discover the truth about who we really are. We will discover that in our own way, we are all born genius.
For many of us, so often we “soften” ourselves for those around us. We quickly learn as children how to dim our own light and we take this way of being into adulthood. We learn how to “be quiet, get in line, sit down, and listen up” instead of how to shine, discover and become curious about ourselves. Our true selves become muddled behind a version of us
I think Scheff’s article opens up an important portal into a life that has been there the whole time. It’s only that we’ve been so absorbed in our own minds and opinions of others to see it for ourselves. This is the truth that true geniuses are those who have been shamed by others and put down for going against the “norms”. They are those who have been told: “you can’t do that, it’s impossible” and who did it anyway. They turned impossible into I’m Possible and they followed their calling anyway. And it is those who made marvelous breakthroughs and discoveries by doing so.
In this post, I invite you to take a look at all of the ways society and your own thoughts have shaped the way you feel about yourself in ways that are not ultimately True. In what ways are you behaving like student B when you really have the brilliance of student A, but even better because your brilliance is unique to you? We cannot wait for society to catch up first in order to allow ourselves permission to be who we really are. Much like geniuses of the past, we must first BE who we really are and society can catch up later.
Your job is YOU. Just be YOU. Do what you can to say “no, thank you” to the madness of your own mind, conditioned by the madness of society itself. When others say you can’t do something, when others judge, criticize or condemn you, do what you can to pay them no mind. Get still and stay in your own lane. Be true to who you really are. F*ck what everyone else has to say. Chances are that the ones who are judging you the most are the ones who judge themselves the most. Those who are truly on the path to their own greatest happiness and authenticity will be those who offer their love and understanding instead of their judgments.
Sending love to all, I am so grateful for you here. May we all find healing on our path to our own Truth and may we all find the courage and love within to be who we really are.
All of my love, Samantha.