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The Virtue of Cleverness

11 May 2009

This month in Edinburgh, Scotland I spent some time at some friends’ house. A day care meets at their place, and I noticed on several occasions from several carers that the most common positive reinforcement they gave the male children was, “What a clever boy!”

Now, there is a disconnect for Americans on this score, since cleverness is normally associated with guile, pride, or even hypocrisy. Not so on the Isle In fact, just a few days after observing the way that the Brits were intent on instilling creativity and wryness in boys, a friend remarked to me about how the British parliament’s grotesque shaming and massive displays of rhetoric come precisely because they prize wit above all else.  There’s something about the whole tenor of it that sounds like playground politics (remember the ridiculous insults cooked up to embarrass others?). But there is no doubt that the ability to cook up intricate speeches and manipulative maneuvers exercises real social power in a society.

I wonder if this trend will be reflected in the next generation of American children more than the past couple. In the media age words are power, and clever boys turn into clever men.

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