On Defining Smart


Shannon Sutherland


Girl Smart Africa

January, 2016


After much thought and consideration I have come to the conclusion that, broadly speaking, smart is a combination of factual knowledge and social intelligence.

There are many dimensions to being smart. Being smart is not only a measure of how much knowledge one is able to obtain through books, their education (whether formal or informal), and personal experiences, but also a measure of one’s distinct ability to apply the knowledge that comes from life’s problems and scenarios. One who is smart would be able to healthily question their learned behaviour, and also the ideals they know to be true. Said person would be able to think divergently and step outside themselves to examine their minds for any bias or unjust way of thinking. In other words, be able to see the bigger picture and their affect on that bigger picture.

In order to become smart, a certain thirst and drive is required.

One student may go through school and mindlessly memorise and regurgitate facts only to forget the teachings later on, while another student may effectively absorb and apply what he or she has learned through school and after. An unfortunate fact of life is that not everyone is born with equal opportunities nor resources. Often times, a person will not have access to any form of formal education, or proper means by which to learn. One in this situation could be smart by learning how to creatively gain knowledge through experience involving what is around them.

A notable part of being smart is being able to recognise what you have around you and work with it. It is the ability to be efficient and productive regardless of how much or little one has. Often times, it is a person in a less financially stable situation that is pressured to become smart and creative in order to live comfortably or even at all. Alternatively, someone growing up in a world of luxury and ease would have to be particularly motivated to become smart simply because it may not be as dire or necessary to survival.

Another important aspect of becoming smart is recognising that you are never as knowledgable as you can be. When a reader comes to the end of a book, they do not stop reading altogether, they move on and begin reading another. We should approach learning the same way. We must be constantly observing, questioning, formulating, and appreciating in order to continue gaining new knowledge. We should not learn about one thing, and then assume we have become adequately knowledgable and stop cease seeking new information.

It is also important to note that just because another does something differently from you, does not mean they are incorrect in how they go about. Alan Turing who, among other major achievements, invented the basis for the modern-day computer begs this question in an interesting form. In his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, he encourages the reader to consider this question: Just because something thinks differently than you, does that mean it’s not thinking?

Consider the Europeans’ invasion and colonisation of Africa.

The Europeans had a certain way of governance, a way with courts, relatively complex systems, and a hint of individualism while the Africans had a less structured and more community oriented way of talking things out and resolving problems with direct analysis and an agreed upon solution. Both systems were effective where practiced. When the Europeans invaded Africa, they were not open to the ways in which the African people maintained order and governed themselves, and instead attempted to implement their own system. This ignorance, which fuelled many other similar actions that still negatively impact Africa today, is the result of a narrow and closed mind. In being smart, it is crucial that one be open.

Being smart plays a major part in navigating the many potential distractions in our world today.

There are flashing lights and loud noises are everywhere, attempting to grab our attention. Particularly attention-grabbing today is the presidential election quickly approaching us. On the news you can always see the newest dirt on Hilary Clinton, or the latest controversial comment made by Donald Trump. There are stories on Ted Cruz slamming Jeb Bush during the last Republican debate and breaking news about Bernie Sander’s ideas on minimum wage.

So much is hurled at us and it is at times hard to digest the vast amount of words.

What’s harder is separating facts from claims. After recent Paris attacks and constant demonising images of the Middle East, American people as a whole are scared. Scared of terrorism and, among other things, scared of being attacked here in America. This sort of fear makes us vulnerable to bad ideas. Solutions like banning Muslims or deporting over 1 million people are shouted at us and we lose our sensibility.

Fear makes us desperate for answers and solutions so much so that we can become open to anything, but if we become smart as a society and maintain our composure under pressure, we can find effective, and more importantly just, ways to reverse our detriment.


African Kitchen Table


Shannon, Editor-in-Chief, African Kitchen Table