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Feb 25 2013

Actually, Mr. Godin, we ARE born this way

Born this way

Dear Mr. Godin,

Reading your books and posts over the last few years, I’ve come to know you as a thoughtful, concise writer. I introduced your writings to my husband, who immediately saw the importance of your words…words that helped him make the leap from a toxic work environment last year into a dream career. You have the eyes and ears and minds of thousands of people every day, and your words imprint upon those eyes and ears and minds. But on Friday, in five brief sentences, you reinforced stereotypes about the gifted that are harmful.

I truly hope this is a misunderstanding of semantics. You have always been so precise with words. Words, carefully placed, focused and meaningful. However, you tossed about the word gifted like a beach ball at a rave. Meaningless, disposable. Within the gifted advocacy community, gifted is a word that has so, so many meanings. To some, it refers to Talent Development. Discover your talent, then hone it, polish it, ten thousand hours and then ten thousand more. Eminence is the goal. If you do not achieve eminence, then you are not gifted.

To so many others, the psychologists of the gifted, the parents, the gifted themselves…Gifted Is. Period. Full Stop. It is neuro-psychological wiring, as inherent to a person as eye color or height. Try as I might, I cannot physically change my eyes from blue to brown, or my 5’11” self to a more easily accommodated (in the clothing department) 5’7″. I am tall, I have blue eyes, I am gifted. My son is slight, he has blue eyes, and he came barreling out of my womb nearly 12 years ago wired as a gifted person. He made no choices leading to habits becoming talents to be labeled gifted. He was born that way.

Hm. Interesting. I instinctively chose the word “inherent” up there. The antonym is “acquired.” Gifted is to inherent as talents are to acquired.

Gifted, talented, and high-achieving. All words that are unfortunately used interchangeably. They are not the same, and because they are used interchangeably so carelessly, myths about giftedness persist. You’re not “gifted in” something, you’re gifted. High-achieving isn’t gifted, it’s high-achieving. A person can be both, but a person can also be one without the other. Talented isn’t gifted, it’s talented. A gifted person can certainly be talented, but a talented person isn’t necessarily gifted. This wordplay is confusing, it’s frustrating, and it’s infuriating.

Why does it anger and frustrate me so? Gifted is simply the far right edge of the bell curve. If anything had been written, by anyone, so flippantly about the far left edge of the bell curve, the roar and the fury would be deafening. And rightfully so. That the gifted stereotypes are still perpetuated and that they are still acceptable fodder for flippancy and willful ignorance is harming our gifted kids. They think there’s something wrong with them because they observe, interpret, and respond to the world differently. They are mocked, bullied, humiliated. They have higher rates of suicide, of alcohol and drug abuse, of incarceration. They are gifted to the core of their very being; it is not something a person can develop with choices and habits and talents.

So Mr. Godin, I am disappointed in you. Instead of encouraging your loyal readers to think differently, to consider a new point of view, to call for changes that could directly affect kids like my son and millions of out-of-the-box thinkers like him, in 33 short words you rallied the status quo. You made my path as an unpaid advocate for these kids and their parents much more difficult, but I will never give up. I am angry, I am motivated, and by God I am going to preach it to the skies until the end of time:

We ARE born this way. Gifted. Is.

With respect,

Jen
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Others in the gifted advocacy field have written on Seth Godin’s Friday post as well:

{Rants and Raves} What Seth Godin Doesn’t Get About “Gifted” (Bless His Heart) at Red, White, & Grew

What Seth Godin Doesn’t Understand about Gifted People: please let this be a hoax… at Building Wingspan

If Only You Were Right, Seth, But . . . at Watch Out for Gifted People

Gifted is About the Starting Point at Life With Intensity

Sething It All Wrong at Gifted and Talented Ireland

Seth Godin Pissed My Friends Off—and He Was Wrong, Too at Kate Arms-Roberts

Actually, It Goes Both Ways at Psychology Today blog Creative Synthesis

Seth Just Doesn’t Get It at Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher

Understanding Gifted Kids at The Maker Mom

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  1. Elizabeth

    Brilliantly written! Thank you for expressing so well, what I inherently know to be true about being gifted.

  2. TheNextMartha

    Thank you for your response. He wrote ignorant words and only words of knowledge spoken loudly can overcome them.

  3. Kristin

    What a brilliant response to a very unfortunate use of words. Thank you!

  4. Wendy

    Frankly, I don’t really like Seth Godin. So many people speak of him as a god, but I once checked out 5 or so books of his from the library as was very disappointed. Meh, was my reaction. And those 5 books could have easily been 5 chapters in a proper book.

  5. Candace

    Coming over from Kim’s post on Maker Mom. I completely agree — “gifted” is a neurological difference. I think that someone who has not experienced it for themselves, first or second hand, might have trouble understanding that. I use talent in a different way, though–to me, talent is potential and is innate, like giftedness. Giftedness is essentially a talent for viewing the world in a different more connected and more heightened way–some gifted people have talents for math, music, etc. It is ability and achievement that are earned.

  6. atxteacher

    YES! Exactly! I love your point about the mirror population on the other side of the bell curve. We muddy the waters when we casually interchange terms.

    “Gifted, talented and high-achieving. All words that are unfortunately used interchangeably. They are not the same, and because they are used interchangeably so carelessly, myths about giftedness persist. You’re not “gifted in” something, you’re gifted. High-achieving isn’t gifted, it’s high-achieving. A person can be both, but a person can also be one without the other. Talented isn’t gifted, it’s talented. A gifted person can certainly be talented, but a talented person isn’t necessarily gifted. This wordplay is confusing, it’s frustrating, and it’s infuriating.”

    1. Jen

      Seriously, roving gangs of angry parents if such had been written about kids on the other side of the bell curve.

  7. Jason

    From reading that my guess is he really confused Malcom Gladwells work.

  8. Catherine Gruener

    Thank you Jen for blogging about gifted children. This article was included in the January Parenting Gifted Children Link Up Party. Much appreciation. http://www.pinterest.com/gruenerconsults/2014-parenting-gifted-children-pin-parties/

    1. Jen

      Thanks Catherine! 😀

  1. Sething It All Wrong |

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    […] Actually, Mr. Godin, We ARE Born This Way from Jen Merrill, author of If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back? […]

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