Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Academic snobbery? It's really not that clever!

My school report card was fairly predictable.  ‘Must try harder’ and ‘easily distracted’ was written with regular monotony.  I was always told that I was capable but lacked the capacity to concentrate or that I possessed the inclination to pay only so much as a blind bit of notice.  Of course, it would be easy to fire-up the blame thrower and point it in the direction of the sub-standard tuition.  Or I could blame my divorced parents and the fact that I’d been brought up single-handedly by my widowed Grandmother who cleaned for other people in her spare time.  But in truth, that would be a kop out.  The reality is that I was nothing other than bored.  

In the late 1970s and early 1980s only the really clever kids stayed on at school.  Most of my friends left as soon as they could to pursue employment in the local factory assembly lines and such like.  I had become a burden on my poor old Grandmother and on one of his rare visits, my Father told me that I was to leave home and join the Military; and the prospect of distancing myself even further away from him was too great a temptation, so for the first and last time ever; I took his advice and signed my life away.  Thirteen weeks after my formal education ceased and without taking any examinations, I stepped on a train at the age of sixteen and left my small Welsh hometown to start my Military career, which little did I know at the time, was to span over the next 28-years.

I loved the sense of belonging I got in my first few months of being in the Military.  It was something that I had never experienced before.  It didn’t matter how clever you were or where you came from - we were all in the same boat.  All of us were equal.  Or equally as dumb as each other as our Corporal would enthusiastically remind us on a daily basis.  But I didn’t mind that.  In fact, the more junior you were the greater the license you had to be dumb. It was expected.  They’d pretty much catered for it.

But over time I began to notice a difference.  Those that had done well in school and university were given a commission – they were the Officers.  As a rule, Officers and their men (and women) did not mix.  Relationships were very superficial; a series of transactional incidences that gave no insight into real personalities.  There was a difference between us.  An ‘us and them’ existence.  But it was okay.  Until you were treated unfairly purely on the back of your limited educational achievements – or for not having any in my case.  This was my first exposure to Academic snobbery and I thought it was largely un-necessary.  I knew even then that having a string of academic qualifications did not necessarily mean that you knew what made people ‘tick.’  And at times it appeared that the more one had achieved in the world of academia; the more obnoxious one could become.

Clearly what was lacking were displays of empathy, understanding, communication and the awareness of others.  Snobbery built up resentment.  There were however, a lot of Officers that weren’t like that.  The decent Officers.  They’d afford you the time of day and appeared genuinely interested in what you had to say because they respected your experience and understood your frustration.  And often, it was these ‘good’ Officers that held the lion’s share of academic qualifications.  These were the Leaders that you’d follow.  Because they’d shown an interest.  You may have complained to them about a previous matter such as lack of equipment or because someone in command was being especially uncooperative, and these guys (these really clever guys) had it fixed for you.  And in doing so they’d won your trust.  You were now prepared to follow them, risk your life for them – because they were emotionally intelligent.

As a trainer, I like to start off my Emotional Intelligence classes with a simple yet effective test.  I ask half of the class to think of someone with whom they have come into contact at some point in their lives that had left an indelible positive impression on them.  A role model if you will.  Conversely, I ask the second half of the class to think of someone who had left a similarly powerful but negative impression.  A word of warning here, you have to be cautious because it’s usually easier for people to bring back those negative ghosts and forget about the role models.  I guess its human nature that we’re more likely to remember and recall bad experiences over good ones.  So the session can get quite heated if not controlled adequately.  There’s a lot of stirring of old emotions.  But what’s interesting is the end result.  I always find that the characteristics of the positive role model example are all intrinsically linked to high levels of emotional intelligence.  This exercise tells the participants exactly what emotional intelligence is all about better than any drawn-out descriptive statement from a textbook.  You should try the exercise for yourself.  There will be two key things to take away from it.  The first is how not to behave.  The second rather predictably is how to behave.

How can we become more emotionally intelligent?  Well, my answer would be to visualise your positive role model and take their lead.  Always think of the consequences of what you do and say.  Think of the impact you are having on others and change elements of your behaviour that you know are negative or even destructive.  For some it’s a constant battle but over time it becomes second-nature.

One of the greatest accolades I could ever wish for is for someone in the audience to immediately think of me as their positive role model.  To think of me as the person that had made a positive, indelible impression on their life.   

How great that would be? 

Imagine how you would feel if they all thought of you!

In truth, it's not how smart you are.  It’s how you are smart that really matters.

With very best wishes,



  1. God bless the Post Office.

  2. Thanks Ian.

    To the anonymous poster - not sure I quite get the Post Office reference but thanks for your contribution all the same.


  3. I like your take on emotional intelligence. I meet a lot of people who seem to think that only those with academic and physical 'glamour' are worthy of attention. Every time I end up, after the anger goes, very curious. I wonder how their universes look from the inside.... like some intellectual insurance advertising, all flop free, shiny, status symbolic, Rolls Royce brained, non struggling ? There are so few really smart people in the world and yet they know only smart people ? how out of touch with reality they must be if this is true.

  4. Hi Caro and thank you for posting. I like your take on the internal view. Honestly, I think that most academic snobs have something to hide; either that or a complete lack of understanding of human capability.

    Best wishes,