Do you ever feel like you’re not quite clever enough? I’m lucky enough to have a circle of friends who are all incredibly intelligent, well-read, driven and successful, but that can sometimes make me feel like I’m running on a conversational treadmill that’s set just a few notches too fast.
A recent conversation with one of said friends introduced me to a new kind of networking event that is popular with start-ups, called Dumbest Person In The Room. The premise is pretty basic for a thing thought up by supposed intellectuals: you must try to be the dumbest person in the room. To achieve this, everyone must bring a plus one who they deem to be smarter than them, and thus you surround yourself with people who are inspiring, educational and generally beneficial to your personal and professional development.
My treadmill analogy still applies, if tenuously, so I’ll stick with it. Bear with me. You go to the gym to get fitter, to improve, meaning that when you train you have to do things that are just a bit too hard, too heavy, too fast. Yes? Then, eventually, those things will get easier, you will have become fitter, and the pain of it all won’t seem so futile.
Dumbest Person In The Room works by the same logic, that intelligence, or intellectualism (I firmly believe them to be very different things) require training and hard work. This is obviously true – or I wasted a lot of time and money on university – but it seems to me that intellectualism is becoming something of a fad. What Dumbest Person In The Room does is commodify intelligence and turn it into a kind of social currency that, in its proliferation, is losing its value.
Like any trend, it’s getting blown out of proportion, and people are becoming more concerned with how others perceive it (and broadcasting it on social media) than the inherent virtue of the thing itself. This is why people lie to their friends about being ‘three quarters of the way through War and Peace’ when they actually spent their holiday flicking through 50 Shades.
Society valuing intelligence as much as, say, beauty or wealth has historically been prized is no bad thing. And 90% of the time I am left feeling as inspired and professionally developed as these events intend me to. But 10% of the time I’m left feeling like an overweight hamster flailing around on a neon wheel with a cheek full of nuts I can’t swallow but can’t spit out. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to fake-laugh at a joke and then subtly Google it under the table. But for every one of these occasions, there is almost definitely another one on which I’ve had to explain myself. I (and anyone else feeling like this) should probably keep this in mind. And maybe stuff my cheeks with fewer nuts, but that’s a different issue.