When hanging out with friends, I like to be the least intelligent one in the room.
It's a strange admission and something I appreciate most people hate to feel. Who wants to sit among others and have conversation fly over their head?
But that's not exactly what I mean. I want to be part of the conversation, but I don't want to be the expert. I want people far smarter than myself to give me new viewpoints, perspectives, and knowledge – to be the student, not the teacher.
I have some acquaintances who, bless their little hearts, just aren't as smart as I'd like them to be. I recently learned that one didn't know what the alt-right was, another can't critically engage in challenging subjects and prefers to say, "that's just what I believe" and sit in silence. I even know others that don't have any books in their house.
These people live this way not for reasons of lack of education or disadvantage, but rather, they simply aren't interested in learning. They choose to be ill-informed because it makes them happier.
After discovering such things, I've started to critically analyse interactions with these friends and noticed the shallowness of the majority of them. I compare this to others in my life who make me feel so enthralled by their chat that I walk away excited to see them again for more brilliant banter. So why am I even mates with some of the people who do little more than talk smack and are content in their blissfully unaware lives?
Well, my only defence is that it can take a while to realise somebody isn't very bright. Many people are funny, entertaining, charming, and seemingly cool – and when making friends with them, those traits prevail. Sometimes it's only through getting to know people over several months when you realise how deep – or not – they are.
I'm more keen on meaningful interactions with friends that really make me realise I have a lot to learn. I love this feeling; one of having your mind opened in front of you and leaving you yearning for a Wikipedia loop when you get home. I savour being challenged, stimulated, and forced to grow as a person.
Case and point: I'm agnostic, and the other day I submitted to a multitude of viewpoints from new friends on a particular religion, and now recognise those who follow it in a completely different way. Similarly, I was recently in a room full of people discussing market forces and rather than try to brag my way through an intense conversation about economics, I just sat there intently and took everything in. From those smarter people, I got a little more intelligent, too.
I realise the term "smart" is overly subjective and totally simplistic, but for this purpose I'm categorising it as follows. Being intelligent has nothing to do with your ability to do maths. Smart people, to me, are those who engage and love learning. They are receptive to critical analysis of their own views. They are awake to the international happenings across the globe. They haven't pre-decided "what they like" and refuse to try new things.
Yet in your 30s and beyond, there's a bit of an issue. You often have to take what you can get when it comes to friends. You can't be too choosy. Meeting new people is hard, letting go of older friendships that aren't satisfying is even harder.
So how can I go about cultivating friendships that are intellectually stimulating with people more intelligent than I? Spend more time with those I want to learn from, I suppose?
Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps if I were a bit smarter, I'd have a more solid answer for you on this one.