Who is an intellectual? You may be surprised at my answer

Who is an intellectual?

You are.

Yes, you are and I’m going to prove it. Maybe you’ll be furious at me but I do not fear your fury! So choke down for a few minutes the bile rising in your gut when you hear or read the term “intellectual,” or “intellectual elite.”

We human beings are born intellectuals. Every cell of our adorable little baby bodies is jammed with curiosity, and curiosity is, for me, a definition of intellectual. If we weren’t intellectually curious, we’d never get anywhere. We’d stay in our cribs, maybe wiggling our growing feet and hands, and yelling when hungry. “WAAAAH!” Like that.

From birth, babies advance. It’s what we do. A while ago, a man I follow on Twitter posted a little video of his baby son, with the remark “He’s learning how to crawl.” The baby was crawling, tipping over occasionally, but righting himself and moving on. He was coordinating his physical facilities with his mental desire, his curiosity about getting to a new place all by himself. And he was smiling at his achievement. Bravo, little guy!

All of us, if relatively healthy, figure out how to crawl, how to stand, how to walk and talk, how to get on a scooter at age 2 and speed down a sidewalk, a parent running frantically along behind. It’s a miracle. And I have been a witness to that miracle.

I couldn’t ride a scooter then or now. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 7 or so. You most likely were ahead of me there.

I’m certain you are ahead of me in many other ways, too. You know things I don’t know and will never know — because your individual curiosity has led you into areas of knowledge of which I am ignorant.

Being intellectual is not the equivalent of being intelligent, whatever that means. And being intelligent about something doesn’t necessarily mean being intelligent about everything. I’ve known many people who could be called brilliant, or geniuses at something, who were not smart in other ways.

Being intellectual isn’t automatically consistent. In my life, I’ve been through periods absent of any intellectual drive, periods in which I read nothing but mysteries. About which I now consider myself an expert. During that time, I never touched a newspaper.

I can’t imagine being so incurious about actual, temporal events now, although I may go into such a phase at some point in the future. So might you. Meanwhile, though, there remains that curious child’s question, “Why is the sky blue?” Luckily we live in the age of Google.

Well, I didn’t really understand that answer. I have trouble comprehending physics. Maybe you don’t. That’s what I mean: there are mysteries of life I won’t understand but you will. All it takes for me to call you an intellectual is for you to ask the question.

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