When I was about nine or ten my guardians sent me to school with a guy living next door who was three or four years older than me. The school was about half-hour’s walk from home and I was too young to go alone. So this guy – who was in the same school – and I would walk to and from the school together.
I never really became friends with this guy, because the only times we interacted was while walking the distance to and from the school. He never entertained me at other times. Never allowed me to join them when he played cricket with his friends in the evening. Yet he played an important role in my life.
He was brilliant at studies and almost everything else. Topped in every exam every year. Was great in sports too. He also played cricket with guys much older than him, because he was so good at it. I felt in awe of him. I was not good at anything. He was always condescending to me for that.
All our talks involved something he was great at and I sucked at. I won’t fault him for that because I sucked at almost everything. He would ask me to memorize mathematical tables, and spellings of words, and answers to science questions, etc. and threaten to hurt me if I failed to do so. Every day he would give me some homework like that, and if I failed to do what he had asked he would hurt me by pressing at the back of my neck.
He made me feel stupid. But maybe because of young age or because of my belittled existence I didn’t have a concept of ego. So instead of hating him for that, I admired him. I knew that he was much superior than me, and thought I was really a piece of trash that he made me feel. Like a slave for his master, I tried my best not to incite his punishment by not doing the homework he gave me.
One day I asked him why he won’t let me play cricket with them or join him and his friends’ company, and he said he didn’t want to be friends with me. I was perplexed. As I asked why, he said he would only be with people who are equally or more intelligent than him, and I was not it. He had nothing to learn from me. That day I felt very sad.
If I had ego, I would probably resent him, hate him. Call him arrogant. But I was too young to have ego. Didn’t even know what arrogance was. I wanted to be with him all the more now, because if being with more intelligent people than oneself was good then I should rather be with him than anybody else. I worked ever harder and with stronger determination to please him enough so that he accepted me as a friend. But that was never to happen.
What happened, however, is that I developed a lot. I never could win his friendship, but if it hand’t been for him I would never have learned many things which I did as a result of him sharing those walks with me. Be it remembering the maths tables, or spellings of words, or knowing meanings of difficult words, or grammar tidbits, or cricketing tips and verbal coaching, and a lot of general knowledge about various subjects. I think I got a whole lot better informed and wiser spending whatever amount time in whatever fashion I did with him.
And that’s not the only thing I got from him.
There are people who are smarter and more intelligent than you, and there are people who are dumber. Being with the former type may make you feel stupid and small. It may make you realize how little you know. Being with the latter type would likely make you feel wise and great.
Those dumber than you may find things to learn from you, and consequently you may earn their admiration quickly and easily. Not so with those smarter and more intelligent than you. Most people choose to be with those from whom they easily get respect and admiration. It feeds their ego.
While there is nothing wrong in having the ego that loves to be admired, I believe it also matters who one is being admired by. If you are being admired by people who are considerably dumb, I don’t think you should take such admiration seriously, be ego-fed by them. When you earn respect and admiration of people who are smarter and more intelligent than you, that better warrants your development.
It is a good strategy for one who sincerely wants to grow intelligent, develop. Try to be with people who know more than you, who are more intelligent than you. It is hard compared to being with people who are less smart or less intelligent than you, because the latter would accept you into their circle easily while the former may not. Now, you don’t want to be a cost to them, like a parasite, so earn your way in to their circle. That means working hard to prove your worth and value to them. That’s the way you develop.
While I don’t generally shun people who are less intelligent than me, and admit to getting ego-boost by their admiration, I place much higher weightage on earning respect of more intelligent and smarter people who I admire.
The guy who rejected me as friend gave me the craving and mindset of striving to earn respect and admiration of people greater than me. I wonder if a lot of what I am today is due to him.