Intellectual types are usually kind of jerks, right?

At least, that’s the prevalent stereotype. We know that Mark Zuckerberg screwed over his good friend Eduardo Saverin. We’ve heard that Jeff Bezos of Amazon delivers some harsh insults to people in meetings. There are numerous complaints from professors that many of their academic colleagues are unpleasant people. And you’ve probably engaged in “dialogue” with more than a few self-styled intellectuals whom you wouldn’t want to know in life outside of Facebook.

Let’s be honest: as with many stereotypes, there’s some basis in reality for the stereotype that intelligent people are jerks. But the two traits need not be linked. In fact, they shouldn’t be.

The blogger MBA Mom made a similar point in a post last week, namely, that “intelligence and kindness are not mutually exclusive.” Her post was a response to the popular meme below:


It was also a response to the marginalization of “gifted” children from today’s education system, which focuses most of its energies (as it always has) on growing the percentage of kids in the “middle.” In addition, MBA Mom noted that the “academically gifted” child is often “the lonely kid in the cafeteria.”

The truth of the matter is this: there is a temptation toward pride, a.k.a. “jerkness”, for those who possess above-average intelligence. But if someone gives into this temptation, it means that he has made bad use of that intelligence, and it might mean that he’s one of those “learned barbarians” I mentioned in another post.

That’s because growth in knowledge and growth in virtue are inseparable. For the more one knows, the more he becomes aware of his ignorance—a realization that should make him more humble, and kinder.