I Think We Need To Redefine ‘Gifted’


I don’t like the word “gifted.”

It’s a flawed shell around a packed center of implicit commentary on those who are and those who aren’t, functioning entirely to navigate the English language without cumbersome, passive-voice constructions. It grants you no choice, sneering from its monopoly on the market for generally accepted terms to describe those who may or may not exhibit some set of traits that makes them daily recipients of whatever present this is supposed to be.

How useless to have a pair of syllables to describe me to me and to no one else, the final holdout of an otherwise winning battle to understand that some of my thoughts take a little extra effort to convey to those who have yet to think them. Loaded as it was, “gifted” gave me no room to identify as such to others without prompting streams of, “No way! Get over yourself! What an arrogant thing to say. Besides, you work too hard and talk too much to be ‘gifted.’ You don’t have Asperger’s, either, and I’ve seen you misplace a comma before.”

Fine, then. “Person who used to intentionally answer questions wrong on middle school quizzes to avoid social isolation in some complex exercise of pure, adolescent humanity, wanting to be known for who he was while simultaneously hiding everything that came with that,” subsequently becoming the “person who can’t type that without immediately feeling guilt over having ever at any point in time not felt extremely privileged to have intellectual abilities that exceed what is perceived as standard.”

Absent of any improvement, that phrase hardly invites anyone to remain conscious, let alone comprehend it in a strong enough fashion to gain some insight into me.

Besides, “guilty” is hardly what I’d be known for; perhaps the highest level of understanding would come from “novelty,” being that I’ve played that role, sometimes pandered to the very audience slobbering over the prospect, only to turn right around and complain that so few gave me respect as a person with any kind of existence outside of a source for curious amusement and helpful exam reviews.

“Novelties,” after all, can use run-on sentences.

If that seems like the solution, it isn’t (and if it doesn’t seem like the solution, well, it still isn’t). That simply reverses the situation, now employing the word assumed to be the intended meaning of “gifted” by others, thus creating no change in understanding.

Maybe, then, it is not about finding a new word or phrase, but instead, defining this one.

I could be the one who doesn’t understand “gifted.”

The word describes something impossible to quantify and something, because it pertains to a group of humans, varied. In any field, natural ability, some predisposition to do whatever better, or even just differently, than most people would, perplexes. Inherently, intelligence, to be as vague as possible in hopes of not totally generalizing the experience of being “gifted,” is the alleged “gift.”

Yet for all its rewards, not every “gifted” person finds infinite happiness, and that state of feeling as if one has no right to ever be disappointed, frustrated, or upset in light of everything afforded to he or she only worsens matters. Self-pity becomes an entirely new entity when you have a cognizance of how unfair and indulgent it is.

The negativity within the experience shouldn’t be a surprise, though, when people who have the gifts of a certain sexuality, or a certain skin color, or a certain belief, or a certain background face far worse marginalization and outright intolerance. To think that there wouldn’t be the comparatively minor inconveniences I’ve encountered would be a disservice to those dealing with far more in light of their own human differences.

Therein lies the gift, no quotation marks.

I’m gifted not because of test scores, developmental pace, age-relative-to-peers, or some tendencies that match a list of common ones on the various websites.

No, I’m gifted because it gives me an outlet to see what I was missing all along. It’s my lens.

I’ve never been discriminated against, and I wouldn’t even consider making an audacious comparison of my individual situation to anyone else’s. Still, I get to be too different for some people’s tastes every now and again, enigmatic to those I’ve failed to present myself to in understandable terms. It’s a minor form of awful to be the “token smart guy” or met with small resentments, or to kill any conversation about exam scores with an honest answer, and in that, I am more aware of how I understand others. Being gifted let me see that accepting differences does not go far enough; appreciating them, wanting them, enjoying them, that’s the level needed.

I was given the gift of having a way to know that people can retain their identities without also isolating themselves from anyone with a different identity, so long as everyone is receptive to that. Obvious as that may be, it seems so rare in practice, with a constant striving for “love people despite” instead of “love people because,” especially when seemingly pro-diversity phrases like “born this way” imply that if anyone ever chose to be different, it would somehow be the wrong choice.

I never thought about things like that until I thought about being gifted, and I find it enriching in my connections with others.

Certainly, there are other means to getting there; many who are not “gifted” can still be gifted in that way, and others may completely disagree that such thinking is a gift at all.

It is for me, though, as big a gift as the one of realizing everyone has a right to his or her emotions, no matter how many people could possibly have it worse, tossing guilt aside and just letting the process happen. It’s as big of a gift as realizing that it isn’t bragging to honestly speak of your own experience, no matter how paranoid you may become that others are taking it as arrogance.

All those other gifts, after all, stem, even if indirectly, from human interaction, and this gift is the one of realizing that it need not matter how “rare” of a person you are when difference, not similarity, grounds the best conversation. I don’t need to know other people “like me,” as helpful as common ground can be, and I don’t need to fake who I am to appeal to others. It takes effort, yes, when people operate at different attitudes toward differences, when others can seem more comfortable to be friends with an iPad than with someone who is not a clone of themselves, but the first step is letting more than what you find on some Internet forum in.

That happens when you celebrate differences. That happens when you don’t give people the very things you lamented others giving you.

So, no, I don’t like the word “gifted,” not in a certain context.

But it works just fine for me.

It works just fine for a lot of people who have very little in common with me.

I thought I was gifted because I understood things others didn’t, but instead, I’m gifted because I understand what I hope a lot of people do, through whichever ways it takes them to get there.

I understand my own perspective, I understand where it relates to those of others, and I understand where those other perspectives can fill in the gaps and correct the flaws of my own.

That’s more than some number a test grader spits out, more than some “check all that apply” list of characteristics, more than some shock that people can spend less than eight years earning a bachelor’s degree at a state school.

After all, it’s a gift, one you earn, and on my personal path, being “gifted” was the best way for me to realize that. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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