Not long ago when I was talking about my work about highly gifted kids with a healer I was seeing, she asked whether I thought highly gifted kids were special. “Well,” I said, “I prefer to think of them as different. The word special seems to suggest better than others, and I don’t mean that. They’re just different.”
She nodded. “Yes, but we’re really all different, aren’t we? I can’t think of any two people who aren’t. Even identical twins aren’t actually the same.”
“I didn’t mean that kind of different,” I corrected myself. “Of course there aren’t any people anywhere who are exactly the same. I meant more like ‘outside the norms.’”
She nodded again, gravely. “What sort of norms?”
I took refuge in an analogy. “Think of height. There’s a great height variation among same age children. But there’s a ‘normal’ range that the majority of kids fit into, and then there are some that are much shorter and some who are much taller. Highly gifted kids are like the taller kids. All children have height, but not all children are tall.”
“But instead of height, you’re talking about intelligence, yes?”
“Right. There’s a range of intelligence into which most people fall, and then there are some who are outside that range. The greatest clustering is in the middle of the continuum, with smaller numbers of individuals on either side.”
“So the ones on either side are special and the ones in the middle are—what?—regular?”
“Well, the ones on either side have special needs that are different from the needs of the ones in the middle, but all kids have the same value.”
“So all kids are special—or else no kids are.”
“Wait,” I said. “If all are special then of course no one is.” I had a strange sense of being caught in a language trap. “But if gifted kids are going to get an education that fits their need for challenging learning in a system based on norms, they have to have something the others don’t need. In that sense they’re special.”
This healer knows what my spiritual beliefs are—we share most of them, including that we are all aspects of the divine. She looked me steadily in the eye. “So they are something others are not?” she asked. “If all people are Spirit, do gifted kids somehow have more of Spirit, or a different Spirit? If there is just One Spirit, how could that be?”
We went on to talk of other things, and then she worked with me on the PTSD left behind after the deaths in my family in 2013, and I headed home. We’d made excellent progress with the PTSD. But I was still genuinely unsettled about that conversation.
My connection with the highly gifted began with my own experience of childhood, with my husband’s and then our offspring’s experiences, and then with families and teachers of such kids all over the country. I have seen their struggles to get a challenging education and to find friends who understand them, their sense of “not fitting” in the world. I have related powerfully to their trials and challenges. How could I not?
But she had challenged me to notice for the first time the “us/them” dichotomy I had created in my own mind in spite of my deep belief that we humans are all one family, all expressions of the divine, all coping with the challenges of life. And—all supported through those challenges by that all-encompassing Spirit. I have an image I’ve used in some of my talks of “Indra’s net,” the Buddhist symbol used to describe the non-dual transcendent basis of all existence, or its holographic equivalent.
The human tendency to identify an “us” to feel comfortable and safe with, and a “them” to defend against, has been obvious to me among races, among political parties, among countries, ethnic groups, religions, and people with different sexual orientations. I have felt that it was one of humanity’s most dangerous and self-destructive tendencies, leading us to generalize about groups defined as other. But never before had my focus on highly gifted kids who so seldom get their educational needs met seemed to be in any way part of that tendency. My reaction to her questions showed me that it was.
Please understand me here. This confrontation with the disparity between my deepest beliefs and my feelings about this population I care about doesn’t change my awareness of their needs or my wish to help them get those needs met. It has only shifted something inside.
It has given me a new understanding of those people who have ranged their arguments so intensely against the gifted, seeming to believe that if my us gets the world’s focus and support it will somehow leave their us out. We all of us have problems, have needs that don’t get addressed, have trials and tribulations and pains that we cope with as best we can. The world we see around us often feels and is said to be limited, a place where there is never enough for all of us.
In that world, the truth is that we who have been given the blessing of fine minds need to remember that humans are more alike than different. Many of our kids are clear about wanting to work for all. We don’t need more struggles between us and them, no matter how subtly (or internally) they occur.
None of this changes the fact that there are infinite numbers of differences among the beings of our planet—cheetahs and whales, butterflies and frogs, snails and humans and bluebirds and gnats—life is diverse. And life forms have diverse needs. Naturally we will go on working to meet the needs of our own particular bits of the web of life, but it is essential to remember that we’re in this together–that life itself is one. And it is life that is special.