Make yourself more intelligent | Sunday Observer

Make yourself more intelligent

28 November, 2021
Yehudi Menuhin
Yehudi Menuhin

Gone are the days when children made ‘Konepittu’ or mud pies. Today they are groomed and primed for success when they are able to walk and talk. When I saw a mother dragging her two-year-old daughter I asked where they were going. “Oh, it’s her first interview, so it’s really important.”

I wondered for a moment how can a two-year-old girl attend an interview. Most women know what men are thinking. She said, “You know how harder it is to get into a kindergarten than to become a CEO.” Not having attended any kindergarten, I did not know what they were teaching at such places.

I was shaking my head over that conversation when a neighbour wanted me to go through a resume to be sent to an international school. It had been prepared by someone with professional achievements. However, the resume was about a child. Now even tiny tots have to attend interviews and prepare resumes like adults. I do not know what is coming next. I will not be surprised if a mother tells me, “My foetus is studying classical dance and will start Bharatha Natyam immediately after birth.” She might add, “She’s already practising the steps in my womb.”

No experience

My friend in China who is teaching English once narrated an incident which is worth repeating. A woman got married to a young man, but she could not produce any offspring. Then they decided to adopt a child. When they went to a childcare institute they were asked to interview a five-month-old infant for 20 minutes. They did not know what to do. In a little while the infant fell asleep and the authorities said the interview was successful as it got the passing marks for general charm.

I still do not know how to judge or interview infants who have had no experience in life. As a journalist once I had to interview a random selection of mothers for a survey. Most of them said their children were more intelligent than them. This seems to be true. Whenever something goes wrong with my smartphone or the laptop, I seek the help of my granddaughter. She would attend to any such technical problem like a technician although she has had no technical training whatsoever.

Sometimes I watch television programmes in which children are questioned by adults. One day, a child was asked, “Why do people wear masks?” Pat came the reply. “Then they can’t do any bad things.” On another day, a child was asked how his mother addressed her father. Without batting an eyelid the child said, ‘Miniho’ (man). Children are frank and outspoken unlike some adults who hide their true feelings.

The performance of most children is quite admirable. Once, a group of children in Japan went on a train as part of a school trip. They were heading for the Tokyo railway station. When they reached the station, they were not in a hurry to get off the train. Instead, they cleaned the compartment thoroughly. The cleaner who came to do her job was surprised. She found the name of the school they came from and sent a letter thanking them.

According to a press report, she was deeply moved and she cleaned the rest of the compartments in a state of happiness. I do not know how many children clean their rooms in Sri Lanka. Maybe they have no time do so as they have to attend school and then private tuition classes.

Violin concerto

An eight-year-old child in Hungary was taken by his cousin to a seedy shoe-repair shop. In the middle of the shop, he saw a pale young boy about his own age practising Felix Mendissohn’s violin concerto. The boy thought how astonishing that a child could play with the skill of an adult. While in Malaysia I saw a charming girl playing the violin on television.

Her music seemed to come straight from heaven. Later I came to know that the girl was Sarah Chang who had emigrated from South Korea to the United States in 1979 at the age of 12. She was attending the famed Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Nobody would forget the lusty tone she evoked from the violin, the sheer brilliance of the musical notes she produced and the way she played.

There have been many other child prodigies who are viewed with a mixture of wonder and scepticism. Unlike most adults, children are ready to test their limits every day in many fields of activity. The fact is even child prodigies have to work hard. A noted violin master says a student has to practise for a minimum of five hours a day. Sometimes they must have the violin in their hands from eight to ten hours.

Next to hard work, genes play an important role in the making of a prodigy. For instance, J.S. Bach was the culmination of several generations of musicians and four of his sons had significant careers in music. Nathan Milstein, a great violinist, had inherited a defect from his parents. The defect was that everything he played came out sounding noble. The parents of Yehudi Menuhin, another child prodigy, were too poor to buy him a violin. When he was given a toy violin, he was frustrated. With great difficulty his parents bought him a violin and the rest is history.

Piano debut

Even child prodigies have to practise for long hours. Ruth Slenczynska made her piano debut in 1929 at the age of four. A long time later in her memoirs she wrote that she was forced by her father to practise for nine hours a day. The minute she missed a note, she got a whack across her cheek.

The presence of child prodigies in society is a rare phenomenon. As has been seen, even child prodigies have to work hard in order to excel in their field of activity. Therefore we cannot conclude that children are more intelligent than adults or vice versa.

In order to lead a happy life you need wisdom which is the ability to grasp the essence of complex situations and act accordingly. Due to lack of experience, a child may not be able to solve some of his problems. That is why wisdom is always associated with old age. The ability to spot an important event can come only through a long process of trial, error and success.

Recent studies have shown that the older we get, the more stable we become emotionally. Our brains become much less prey to neuroticism and negative emotions, helping us to see everything clearly. There is increasing scientific evidence to back it up.

There is no need to worry about not being born as a child prodigy. With the right brain-training you can boost your IQ which is closely connected to your working memory. Torkel Klingberg, a cognitive neuroscientist, says our working memory actually grows in response to training. The message is loud and clear. With the right kind of training, you can make yourself more intelligent. [email protected]