Posted by Nick Whitehead on Friday, 10th May 2013

Each of us has different competencies. From a young age, my son Matthew could reach up and catch a cricket ball without much thought or practice. He had physical intelligence. People like Stuart Broad and Kelly Holmes have honed this specific intelligence, as have Darwin (science), Bach (music), Newton (maths), and Rembrandt (art), in their respective fields.

As we recognise the variety of intelligences, we can begin to see why some highly proficient people can’t teach to save their life. They lack (among other things) inter-personal intelligence: they can’t imagine how a problem might look from the student’s point of view, why they got stuck, nor how they could be helped. What a gift, to be able to see things from another’s point of view. It’s at the heart of the second great commandment of Jesus, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, and it needs to be practised if it is to reach full potential.

Another (often unremarked) intelligence is “intra-personal” – this is the ability to understand what’s going on inside you. At our Any Questions? evening in Shere in March there was a question about the value of fiction in human development. One of the panellists spoke of the way stories help us to imagine what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes. Another valued the escapism that fiction provides – a break from the reality of daily life, simply to recover.

Among other things, intra-personal intelligence helps us to assess the impact of our relaxation choices on our inner being. For the yonger generation, computer games are a valuable escape from the stresses of daily living, and some are educational (Pepper Pig is an excellent example). In contrast Call of Duty enables you to play war-games with authentic weaponry – an arsenal of more than 70 weapons is available, including assault rifles with laser sights, claymore mines, 0.50-calibre sniper rifles, and M-249 SAW machineguns. Is this a good form of escapism in the long run? My guess is that you don’t have to ring the next of kin of one of the combatants, nor contact the funeral directors to arrange a memorial service, in order to get to the next level.

I am aware that when I want to relax, programmes like Lewis (and previously Morse) provide the escapism I sometimes need. But a constant diet of this sort of material is not exactly life-enhancing. It might not be quite as violent as Call of Duty but the reality of bereavement is not exactly dwelt upon as the murders mount (Midsommer Murders takes this to a whole other level).

I first became aware of the fact that we have many different intelligences when I read Daniel Golman’s book Emotional Intelligence. Ever since, it has enabled me to see people in a subtly different way, realising that society sometimes pigeonholes people (eg, “didn’t go to university”), thereby undervaluing the gifts they have to offer.

It turned out to be one of the most useful books I have ever read, because, as Rector, one of my key tasks is to encourage the right people into the right tasks, and to help to release our varying intelligences for the service of God and his world.