What do we tolerate in a genius?

I’m not offering any answers in this blog, I just thought it was worth asking the question. Extraordinary people often aren’t the easiest to get along with. This can be because they’re so involved with the awesome thing they do that they don’t connect with the rest of life easily. They may think differently, have different priorities. Some, it must be said, are a long way up their own bums, suffering from over-entitlement issues, ego trips, power trips… How good do you have to be for it to offset not being very good at all?

It comes up every time some high profile, brilliant person is caught doing something downright criminal. This happens a lot. See previous comments about ego trips, and feelings of entitlement… How much slack do we cut them because we like what they do? How much do we tolerate in the allegedly great and the good that we don’t find acceptable in ‘ordinary’ people. What’s the basis for the massive double standard? Is life a scales where the harm we do and the good we do (or the goals we score, or the songs we sell) can balance each other out? Does anything that isn’t about making up directly for our shit offset our shit?

When people are successful, the price of their success looks justified. They were bold, heroic, courageous. They kept to their vision, were disciplined, had integrity… When there is no success, those same actions look like utter selfishness and stupidity, often inflicting ongoing damage on friends and family. We frame it with the outcome and judge it accordingly. Obsession in the winner is something to be proud of. Obsession in the loser is probably going to be treated as a mental health problem. Dedication or self indulgence. Persistence or stupidity. How much money you make will probably define how everyone else judges you, including the people who bear the brunt of it. If you’re suffering for someone else’s heroic achievement, that’s pretty heroic too. If you’re suffering for someone else’s selfish indulgence, there’s not much to be proud of.

What price do we pay? What price do we ask others to pay? What are do we think we are entitled to? How does the idea of success reshape the ideas about entitlement? When does it become acceptable to stop making effort towards being a good sort of human being?


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “What do we tolerate in a genius?

  • Rick Finney

    For me, the bottom-line question has always been: does someone treat others with kindness and decency in their encounters as individuals? I try to do this myself, not always with complete success, but I do see the point of trying. If someone consistently fails to do this, no matter how brilliant or “creative” they may be in other ways, I tend to want to leave them alone.

  • Elisa

    Resentment is a type of negative emotion that people experience when they feel they have been wronged in some way. This feeling of being harmed may be in response to actual events or it may be purely imagined.

    In many instances such feelings are irrational, but the individual will not be able to see this.
    Resentment is said to be closely related to two other emotions; hatred and contempt. It is suggested that the individual tends to experience:

    Contempt when they feel wronged by somebody whom they view as inferior
    Anger when wronged by an equal
    Resentment if perceived harm is due to the actions of a superior

    I am so glad I have a solutions for dealing with this when it crops up in my daily life. I no longer have to go around finding what or who to blame. I can change me. 🙂

  • Ryan C.

    I generally have a low tolerance threshold for people being dicks, no matter who they are or how great they are at [insert thing here]. I also refuse to compartmentalise and separate a person’s work from the person themselves. The world has enough “genius”, what it needs are more kind people.

  • John Davis

    Interesting you should ask this Nimue. Last night I watched the original X-Men film on Film 4 with Patrick Stewart and Ian McCellum. It seems that the film covers the same ground…how giftedness is viewed by those less endowed and how gifted people can feel rejected. In the film, the gifted ones divided into those who chose to integrate (by hiding their giftedness) with the majority and those who (in response to their abusive treatment) sought to wreak their revenge. Like you, I can offer no generic answer…but recognising the circumstance is at least a start in teasing this out. John /l\

  • Rick Finney

    Interesting, too, how much unkind behavior can be found in spiritual communities, even among supposedly well-practiced people. I’ve noticed this mainly in Tibetan Buddhist communities over the years, but I’m guessing this can be found in pagan communities as well?

  • Graeme K Talboys

    Genius, however you interpret that, is not licence to behave in any way you wish. It seems especially prevalent in the arts that producing popular and/or cutting edge work is taken as a licence to behave badly toward others. It is not. It is why I will not have the work of certain people in my house. It is not always an easy call to make. We all have complicated emotional lives, but someone who uses their genius (or talent) as an excuse to abuse others (be that physically or emotionally) does not deserve any kind of adulation.

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