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OnWords: The Threat Of Brilliance

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While we throw the word around like it’s a good thing, nothing threatens us quite like brilliance.

At a recent youth leadership conference for kids with psychiatric diagnoses, I met a young man nobody seemed to know what to do with. During breakout sessions, he wrote bizarre responses to the questions we asked and gave similarly inscrutable answers when we reconvened.

When we asked what you do to help yourself feel well, most of the others mentioned normal kid stuff: “Go to my room,” “Play a video game,” “Call a friend.”

But not this kid. He said, “Climb a tree to its highest heights!”

When asked what he did when he got triggered, he mentioned that he stayed away from another kid, who was, and I quote, “enemy to all animals.”

It was only his response to what he did when things were breaking down for him that revealed his true brilliance. He said “find a stronger branch.”

All this time, he had been, with his own peculiar genius, telling us about his life. He told us about his imaginary identification with an innocent creature. He told us how he escaped. He showed us how all this added up to heroically and independently dealing with a schoolyard bully.

In other words, his seemingly strange responses were about how he overcame, and we dull adults were so blinded by his 10-year old brilliance, so scared of what we didn’t immediately understand, that we called it madness instead.