Dr. John Young††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 5-4-08

Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville

 

Multiple Intelligences

 

††††††††††† Most of us grew up with the idea that there was only one kind of intelligence and that was the math and verbal skills intelligence measured by the standard IQ tests. Even psychologists and educators most often acted upon that assumption until Harvard Universityís Howard Gardnerís 1983 book, Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner argues that there are at least 8 forms of intelligence that parents, educators, and psychologists should be paying attention to and nurturing in human beings throughout their lives. Now, Gardnerís multiple intelligences is the standard professional position, but many people, even some educators and parents, keep acting as if intelligence and talent are genetic, inborn, that if you donít start doing well in math and grammar by the time you are 10 years old that you are dumb, not college material, and are unlikely to do well in life. This is itself a stupid lie.

 

††††††††††† In fact, there is not a set of genes for smart, or for musical or artistic talent. Plenty of children with high IQs become marginal students and do not grow up to be successful in their lives, and plenty of people without extraordinary verbal or mathematical skills end up doing well in school and fabulously in the course of their lives through the effective nurturing and instruction they receive, how hard they work, and favorable opportunities during their lives that they make the most of.

 

††††††††††† Howard Gardnerís multiple intelligences include: 1. verbal-linguistic, 2. logical-mathematical [these two are the standard IQ test forms of smart], 3. spatial [architects, engineers, designers, artists, craftspeople especially need these], 4. bodily-kinesthetic [athletes, body workers, farmers, gardeners, trades, builders particularly need these], 5. musical, 6. interpersonal [any one working with people needs these], 6. intrapersonal [counselors, any one trying to understand themselves or intimates needs these], 8. naturalist [most scientists, anyone working with nature needs these]. There may be other forms of intelligence.

 

Gardnerís basic point is that everyone has and needs some of each of these forms of intelligence, and that particular human activities challenge us all to develop certain forms of intelligence to a high degree. We all have all these forms of smart, but in varying degrees, levels of skill, and limitations. Our intelligences act in concert within certain situations or contexts. If we work primarily in certain domains, those tend to become our primary brands of intelligence. Gardner wants those of us who are not extraordinary to learn from those who are. He specifically challenges all of us to: 1. reflect regularly on our daily lives in the light of our long-term aspirations, 2. to leverage our own strengths, and 3. to frame our experiences in positive ways that help us to move ahead. Pay attention to what is special within your own mind and within the minds of those over whom you have some responsibility, your children and students, employees, friends, colleagues and soul mates.

 

††††††††††† Gardner defines intelligence as a bio-psychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems and create products that are of value in a culture. Depending upon the values in any particular culture, the opportunities available to a particular individual, and then the individual decisions made by individuals, their families, teachers, and their supervisors and mentors, any particular personís potentialities will or will not be activated.

 

††††††††††† Fourteen years later, in 1997, Gardner followed up with a new book, Extraordinary Minds: Portraits of Exceptional Individuals and an Examination of Our Extraordinariness. His thesis in that book is that genetic endowment is not destiny. He finds that extraordinary individuals are distinguished less by their impressive raw powers than by their ability to identify their strengths and then to exploit them. He finds extraordinary achievement to be the result of a dynamic interaction between the individual, a particular domain or discipline, and its cultural field, that set of persons and institutions that render judgments. In Extraordinary Minds, he talks specifically about Mozart, a master musician, Freud, an extraordinary theory maker, Virginia Woolf, an introspective genius, and Gandhi who was a masterful influencer. Certainly Freud and Woolf had verbal and logical skills, but their intrapersonal skills were also extraordinary. Mozart was a genius musician, which contains its own special logic but he brought to his compositions also amazing skill in the use of his own and other bodies for musical performance, and the spatial skills needed for both. An influencer like Gandhi usually offers a narrative that creates common bonds that explains something about peoplesí own identities for the many they influence.

 

††††††††††† In 2006, Gardner took another quantum leap in Five Minds for the Future. †Here, Gardner is not thinking about 5 extraordinary people nor about 8 or more different ways of mastering facets of reality. Instead, he is thinking about five broad uses of the mind that we can all cultivate at home, at school, in the workplace, in our professions, and as citizens. This book is concerned not so much with psychology as with public policies. His five minds are the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind.

 

A disciplined mind has mastered a specific scholarly discipline, craft or profession. Gardner believes that it takes at least ten years in a field in order to become a disciplined mind, and that a person with a disciplined mind knows how to continue to work steadily and improve oneís skill and understanding of the field over the years and continues to do. The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other people. He argues that in the explosion of information and change that the ability to synthesize will become ever more crucial. The creating mind breaks new ground, asks unfamiliar questions, has fresh ways of perceiving, and arrives at unexpected answers. Ultimately, creations must find acceptance among knowledgeable consumers. The creating mind tries to stay at least one step ahead of even the most sophisticated machines.

 

The respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand Ďothers,í and seeks to work effectively with them. In the 21st century, Gardner believes that intolerance or disrespect is no longer a viable option. The ethical mind ponders the nature of oneís work and the needs and desires of the society in which one lives. How else can we truly grow beyond short-sightedness and selfishness and learn to do good work and to become good citizens?

 

In the 21st century, Gardner argues that without a disciplined mind an individual will be restricted to menial tasks, without synthesizing abilities that we will be overwhelmed by the avalanche of information and will become unable to make wise decisions, that without creating abilities that we will be replaced by computers, that those without respect will poison their work places and communities and will not remain worthy of respect, and that individuals without an ethical mind will become unable to do decent work or to remain responsible citizens.

 

Using the knowledge that Howard Gardner has given us can help us to make our principles and traditions as Unitarian Universalists have more reality and become deeper. He provides ethical content to our tradition of heeding the guidance of reason and the results of science. He gives us concrete ways to resist the idolatries of mind and spirit.

 

Our first principle about peoplesí inherent worth and dignity does not mean that people are equal, nor does it deny that many people act in ways that do not dignify themselves or respect other people. It is hypocritical and impractical to act as if everyone is equally able in all activities, and it is unjust and impudent to live as if all activities were equally worthy. Our second principle sets up three interlocking standards for behavior: to do justice, to seek equity or fairness, and to do both of these with compassion. We are not striving for some bland or cosmic equality. We are seeking fairness, given othersí behavior and circumstances. We are proceeding with the assumption that everyone has spiritual worth and has potential intelligence, but we do expect everyone to become responsible for their own actions. No one gets to remain irresponsible throughout their lives because they had a hard childhood or come from an oppressed group. Our fourth principle is the search for truth, but we are pluralists so we do not believe that there is a single truth or particular dogma, scripture, or creed that everyone must embrace in order to find happiness in life, peace in death, or fulfillment in either.

 

Howard Gardnerís insights that people have a mixture of different forms of intelligence make our beliefs more intelligible. It makes clear that we need one another, and must keep learning, growing, and changing in order to flourish as human beings. He provides us with clear challenges to deepen our own faiths and practices. Do you regularly reflect on your daily choices in the context of your life-time goals? Do you concentrate upon leveraging your own strengths instead of fruitlessly concentrating on things you just canít do well? Do you consistently frame your actions in ways where you can make progress, or do you waste yourself in continuing anxiety about the mistakes in your life?

 

Our UUA principles of mutual acceptance and encouragement to spiritual growth, using your own conscience and favoring democratic processes in your interactions with others, a clear commitment to a world community focused on peace, liberty, and universal justice, and an ecological respect for our interdependence with the other elements of nature clearly point us toward Gardnerís last two minds for the future: a respectful mind and an ethical mind, and they give us concrete preferred concentrations and methods in these efforts. We are committed to mutual respect and ethical lives, but these are respect constantly challenged by our own consciences and by democratic processes, by natural laws and a global focus. Our ethics gets beyond tolerance to a commitment to try to understand and work with our opponents rather than simply isolating ourselves from them or not killing them.

 

Gardnerís five minds for the future raise the bar over our too often Ďaccepting everybody, loving all, anything goes, what me worryí platitudes. He flat says that each of us needs to master at least one field in life, that it will take at least 10 years and that you have to not only be willing but able to continue learning about it for the rest of your lives. This, he argues, is a necessary discipline for adult life in the 21st century and those that fail will be marginalized because they have not done their job as human beings. He argues that in our world of too many choices and information overload that we all need to become at least reasonably competent synthesizers, putting together diverse facts and truths in useful ways for ourselves and others. If we do not do so, we will get left out of the action. We need to become part of creating communities that discover new perspectives, try out different ways of doing things, and take the risk to become part fresh endeavors that stretch us as individuals and as communities. If we donít, we will increasingly be replaced by machines.

 

I am not much impressed with an uncomprehending tolerance, with those who respect the powerful but disparage the dispossessed or with people that treat everyone exactly alike. People do not deserve to be treated exactly alike. They deserve to have us make an effort to understand them and to work with them. When we or others act in irresponsible ways, it would be foolhardy and unjust to act as if we or they had done just as well as people who act responsibly and deserve our respect. I donít think that I or anyone always does their best. It is disrespectful to act as though what people do has no meaning or value. Offer people the benefit of the doubt, a second chance, your understanding, but act respectfully and expect other people to do so too. Protect the innocent and confront the violators. People who act constructively will not be universally liked, because they are comforting to the afflicted but they are challenging to the irresponsible.

 

Ethical minds may strive to have empathy and even compassion for everyone, but they donít love everyone equally. Talking a good line is nice, but the proofs in ethics are your ordinary behavior, not just your special kindnesses to intimates. It is focusing on long-term goals not short term pleasures. It overcomes most of our universal tendencies toward conservatism, faddism, and attitudes of impotence. Generally, you work toward reconciliation and are advised to avoid repeated confrontations, which generally build resistance and anger rather than responsiveness and creativity. Howard Gardnerís insights about multiple intelligences, extraordinary people, and minds for the future provide some excellent tools for putting our UUA principles and traditions into creative and effective practice. If you want to become extraordinary, identify your strengths and put them to use in the communities you value!