Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Raising Geniuses

I believe it's critical for fathers to inspire and develop children's abilities to make positive contributions for the world. Every child has enormous potential over his or her lifetime. There will be many day-to-day helps and services which will not be remembered 50 years from now, but will still be enormously helpful. And there can be some contributions which truly change lives and have disproportionately large impacts on the larger world.

Thomas Malthus ( 1766 - 1834) is most famous for his theory that continual increase in the world population would eventually cause food demand to outpace supply, and a collapse that would push the survivors back to subsistence farming conditions. Every time we have come close to what some thought was the "carrying capacity" of the planet, the human population continued to expand. Why? Two likely possibilities:

1. The Malthusian theory doesn't take into account the technological advances and productivity gains in food production. (In fairness, nearly all of the major productivity gains in agriculture occurred after his death.)
2. Malthus didn't understand the impact of geniuses.

I believe both are correct. Dads, let me talk with you about "genius."

Historically it's been a relatively small number of people who have made discoveries or developed technologies which have transformed the world. We look at Eli Whitney (cotton gin), Thomas Edison (electric lighting, audio recording), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Marconi (radio), Alexander Fleming (penicillin), Louis Pasteur (understanding of germ theory), and Albert Einstein (theory of relativity), and we think "Wow!" There are plenty of others.

Two things are true about these geniuses.

First, they were recognized as "geniuses" after they'd accomplished something, not before. Their "genius" status had more to do with willingness to try and take risks and work hard than it did raw intellectual or creative capacity.

Second, many of them would not have made your typical "most likely to do something great in life" list when they were children. Edison was considered unteachable by his teachers and so his mother home-schooled him. Einstein couldn't get a teaching job after he graduated from university (and he failed entrance exams the first place he applied). Fleming was considered a mediocre researcher.

As you help your children, don't lose sight of the FACT that you may be shepherding geniuses. Don't let them think they have no hope of doing great things. These are future mothers and fathers and pastors and missionaries and inventors and researchers and writers and creators and leaders.

(By the way, I work for an agricultural corporation. Today most hunger is because of poor logistics or war or political decisions. We're on a mission to double the productivity for grains by 2050, or else we will likely see famine as a result of too little food. With today's technologies, the amount of arable land is roughly constant worldwide. I'm praying for a future genius will come up with a way to increase the amount of arable land we have to work with.)

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