Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Giftedness and Ender's Game

Sometimes when I go to a movie, I am disappointed, and as I leave the theater I am immediately dunked back into the mundaneity of life.  Sometimes when I go to a movie, I am thrilled, and the experience of "being in the movie" lingers with me for hours afterward.
Ender's Game stays with me still. And let it be known, this is not a movie review.

Let me explain.

This may sound a little strange, but Ender's Game is one of my top-five all-time favorite books. Why, you may ask, is a violent book about military tactics and soldier youth in my top five, alongside classics like Gone with the Wind and Jane Eyre?  Not for the reasons that it is recommended as reading in some military circles, I can promise you that.  All of the military strategy and "winning all future battles" stuff is immaterial to Ender's real story line--what it means to be genius and the price that genius often must pay.

Ender identifies his gifts early in his life--he learns military strategy from near-death battle experiences with his older brother, Peter, while he learns empathy from the deep love he shares with his sister, Valentine; all three children are intellectually gifted and think circles around their peers in most situations. I don't want to spend a whole lot of time recounting the story, but if you are unfamiliar with it, wikipedia offers a good synopsis.

What Orson Scott Card, the author, and to a lesser degree Gavin Hood, the director, relay so well is the struggle (both outer and inner) that comes with genius, true genius--genius like that displayed by Einstein, Curie, Napoleon, Gandhi, Van Gogh, da Vinci, Hawking, Edison.  True, world-changing, paradigm-altering genius is rare.  It is lonely.  It is isolating.  It is frustrating, and in many situations, it is painful.  Aside from his sister, Ender had no one he could call a friend--others greatly respected him, but no one completely befriended him. Instead, many of his peers looked for ways to knock him down by either physically or emotionally abusing him. Ender was isolated by his brilliance and for his brilliance, and by those mentors surrounding him who hoped to pull even more out of him.  He was frustrated when he had to serve under a commander who was obviously less capable than he.  And in the end, he felt the pain that came from his "success"--wiping out an entire species because of his military gift.

I often think about this dichotomy:  Genius changes the world, yet it can't seem to fit into the world.  Ender can't function at the lower level of "normal" people, yet he can barely live with himself while functioning at his best.  Van Gogh killed himself because of this exact issue--the isolation of true genius.  Other geniuses retreat into their own little worlds, shielding themselves from the pain they feel, the ostracism they feel, the frustration they feel when they try to live a "normal" life in the "normal" world. Being gifted is hard.  Really, really hard.

There is another dichotomy involved in this process.  Society at large worships genius--for example, Steve Jobs is the darling of the technology age--and yet society on a smaller scale (classrooms, offices, neighborhoods) ostracizes and belittles genius. Not only does society ostracize and belittle, it also does everything it can to equalize all of us--trophies for all participants, "No Child Left Behind."

Guess what?  That just isn't possible.

I have something rather unpleasant and completely politically incorrect to say.

Not everyone is gifted.  There.  I said it.  How does it make you feel?  Uncomfortable?  Violated?  Free? Angry?  Sometimes the truth will do that.

No matter how much I try, I will never wrap my brain around Hawking's theories.  No matter how much I study, I will never understand Curie's radioactivity studies.  No matter how much I practice, I will never paint the Mona Lisa.  No matter how much I audition, I will never be on Broadway. I just can't.  And neither can most of us, even though legislation and political correctness do their best to portray us all as the same.  We are all equal, yes. But the same? No.

The very core of Ender's Game is discovering and accepting who we are--our deep-down, known-only-to-God selves.  And part of discovering who we are is embracing the gifts we've been given and accepting those we haven't, whether we are the neighborhood's best plumber, the first grade's best teacher, or the winner of the Nobel prize. Ender gives us all permission to find that best and to be the best we can, even if others can't or won't understand.

Some people have the gifts to change a child's life.  Some people have the gifts to solve complicated math theorems. And a very special few have the gifts to change the world--if government and society will allow them that freedom. I believe this so strongly that I'm devoting five semesters of my life to learning how the gifted think and how best to serve them in the classroom.  Genius learns differently than the regular population, and they have been left to fend for themselves too long.  They have been ridiculed and isolated too long.  They have been minimized for too long.

Whether you change your world or change the world . . . be you. 

And allow others that same privilege.

That's why I love Ender's Game.


  1. Maybe I'm overly simplistic and maybe my IQ is not as high as it should be, but when I go to a movie, I'm not looking for a life altering experience and I'm not interested in reading too much into it. What is the reason for going to a movie, in my opinion? To be entertained! Yes, sometimes movies have a lasting impression, deeper meaning, beautiful message, and negative effects as well, but for the most part, it's just fun to get out and see a movie. It's also fun to see a movie after you've read the book to see how it compares. People need to relax and stop reading so much into things. I think it's good for people to walk away with their own impression, but that doesn't mean that was the original intent of the film. I haven't seen Ender's Game yet, but I really want to. It looked interesting and entertaining.

  2. I love this post.
    I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately, and it even came up in my Form and Analysis class in the Baroque Concerto form. The way these concertos are composted, the orchestra and solo alternate. The orchestra starts in the tonic. Once the solo comes in, they take the tonic and stray to some nearly related key. Then the orchestra comes in using staying in that key. Then the solo comes in and changes it again. The orchestra constantly strives for sameness and predictability and stability, while the soloist is constantly striving for change and expansion, something more beautiful. I suddenly found myself following a metaphor for society and those individuals who possess the gifts to change it.

  3. i like how you ended that. "allow others that same privilege."

    i was one of those gifted kids in school. i never fit. ever. and my teachers didn't always appreciate having me in their class because i rarely applied myself.

    but i never saw myself as gifted. even now, really. i love how smart i am. i do. but gifted? i wouldn't call it that. i'd much rather be able to make someone laugh. the person who can do this? THAT's gifted to me.

  4. I haven't been interested in Ender's Game...until now. I'll have to pick it up from the library. I think it will be a read first, see later situation.

  5. Great post. It is hard to say that we are not all awesome. Yes, there are some children left behind.
    No matter how hard we try.

    I have heard a lot good about this show. Looking forward to seeing it.