Are Intelligent People More Lonely?


It sounds like a very mean and undemocratic
thought, trading off the peculiar glamour that isolation has in a Romantic culture – in
order to gain an oblique sense of superiority and perhaps pass off an absence of social
skills as a virtue. It is important, therefore, to be clear what is meant here by intelligence.
It has nothing to do with degrees or any of the criteria by which we ordinarily measure
cleverness. What is meant is emotional intelligence, which exists (or not) in every strata and
nook of society. Emotional intelligence means a capacity for self-honesty and self-observation;
it means, a knack for opening oneself up to the stranger, more exciting, less easily admissible
aspects of oneself and at the same time for noticing the many beautiful, peculiar and
profound experiences and sensations passing through consciousness. We’re not used to
doing this. We cleave tightly to reassuring notions of what normal people are like, which
means we exclude a lot – often the richest bit – of what we truly feel, want and think.
We edit out our more generous, wilder, more impatient, more terrifying sides; leaving
only the socially admissible husk that we artfully pretend is who we are. And simultaneously,
we ensure that we are never far from something that can take us powerfully away from ourselves,
and so miss out on the troubling wonders that streak across the mental horizon at every
instant. Most of what is in our minds remains unfelt and unseen, troubling us only in the
small hours. Insomnia is the revenge for all that we tried so hard not to notice in the
daylight. In this context, emotional intelligence emerges as a species of courage, directed
at vanquishing not an external enemy but a fear of being weird or of going mad. A certain
sort of intelligent person is, above all else, a superior and more committed reporter of
their inner states. Or, as Emerson once put it, ‘In the minds of geniuses, we find – once
more – our own neglected thoughts.’ It is almost certain that people who have devoted
themselves to self-honesty and self-observation have an above average chance of meeting with
incomprehension, irritation, censorship or boredom when they attempt to share the data
from their own minds frankly in company. Their thoughts (it might be on politics or architecture,
family life or sexuality) will sound more threatening, intense, oblique or tender than
is allowed. That feels lonely, if one is in the mood to frame things like this. There
are simply fewer people at large committed to self-honesty and self-observation – and
therefore up for exchanging notes on what it’s truly like to be alive. Yet there is
one resource that is exceptionally well suited to address the feelings of disconnection liable
to be felt by the emotionally intelligent: art. Works of art are humanity’s secret
diary: records of all that could not be said in regular social contexts, but which have
found a home in the more intimate, honest communication that can take place between
an art-work and its audience. The libraries, cinemas and galleries of the world are repositories
for all the sensations that didn’t easily make it into standard interactions and that
contain what we need to state, and crave to hear as audiences, in our lonely states. Therefore,
while emotionally intelligent people may have an uncommonly hard time not being lonely with
a person, they have an unusually easy time finding company with people who are not in
the room, the fancy term for which we call art. We have perhaps over-privileged certain
standard notions of friendship. We may just have to accept that our best friends could
have died 250 years ago – and be chatting to us via dabs of paint or within rhyming
pentameters. That said, the goal shouldn’t be a society where art is ever more prevalent
and more available when loneliness strikes. It is perhaps a society where art is ever
less necessary – because we have grown better at knowing how to share more of who we are
in the ordinary moments of our lives; where we have found a more direct and reliable path
out from our loneliness. If you liked this film, please subscribe to our channel and click the bell icon to turn on notifications. Most books that want to change us seek to make us richer or thinner. This book wants to help us be nicer, less irritable, readier to listen and warmer people.

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