A new kind of polling and a broader way of describing intelligence than the IQ test offer promise for a higher quality of public discussion and respect for intangible talents.
The polling registers the relationship between what people know and their attitudes. For example, a recent national poll showed that most people think that foreign aid takes around 10 to 15 percent of the federal budget and that it should absorb no more than 5 percent. The actual foreign aid figure is one percent of the budget.
Lots of Americans are against much foreign aid, but their attitudes are more understandable when related to their overestimations of the total number. It gives hope to the notion that accurate knowledge can generate attitudes.
A new survey, sponsored by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that a majority of white Americans believe the average black is faring as well or better than the average white in such specific areas as jobs, education and health care. Not true. Government statistics show that whites, on average, earn 60 percent more than blacks, are much more likely to have medical insurance and more than twice as likely to graduate from college.
The same survey showed that more whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans said the black population was about 24% of the total population. The actual figure is 12 percent.
Haven’t you been skeptical of polls when the questions asked are about subjects that few people know about? Or about subjects that have been inundated with corporate propaganda such as the outright lies about our civil justice system?
When people are polled about whether they think we are too litigious, their answer might be quite different if they knew that pre-civil war our forebears filed more civil lawsuits per capita than is now the case. Or that nine out of ten wrongfully injured or defrauded people do not use the legal system to recover damages.
The other overdue awareness is that a person’s intelligence reflects his or her emotional traits — often referred to as character in the old days. We see this all the time every day. Some people are mercurial and impulsive; others are astute and steady; some people are technically smart, but they have no people skills. Some people are sharp, but they have very modest horizons about what they can achieve. Others do not suffer from recurrent bouts of little confidence in themselves. Some people have closed minds and live in routine ruts; others like to see and experience new activities and ideas.
Well, the academics, who hoisted the IQ tyranny that put millions of young people in mental straitjackets about what they can learn in life, are on the defensive. Other psychologists are honing a message about EQ or emotional intelligence.
This approach opens up the non-predetermined life of the mind, a mind that can grow with personality and character and is not prejudged by how it fills out multiple-choice, standardized test questions for three hours in October or April.
Our common sense comes into play here. Success in life is far more a reflection of one’s judgment, wisdom, experience, stamina, persistence, creativity, idealism and honesty than the total score on a,b,c,d, or none of the above.
The IQ appraisal system damages the self-confidence of young people who do not do well and inflates the smugness of those who do. It does little to predict achievement in life and, because it is so correlated with family income levels, tends to be vulnerable to racial and ethnic superiority stereotypes.
Getting away from the dominant IQ yardstick opens up a much more optimistic spectrum of behavioral nurturing at a very young age. It is not pretty much decided at birth (the genes) as the IQ tests have often implied. The EQ entry into this age-old debate is a healthy and liberating one.