Smart, Rich, Strong, and Good

How can reconciling our multiple forms of human intelligence with the many forms of wealth help to keep us from hustling in our small businesses?

The Mind, the Brain, and the Body: Or, Ways of Being Smart

Carrying three days’ worth of food for two people up a steep hill in Massasauga Provincial Park in July, 2014, I felt a shift in my lower back. The weight of the food—held in two plastic barrels to keep raccoons out—was too much for my spine, and two little sacs of fluid that sit between the vertebrae just above my tailbone slipped out of their previously secure positions. In the seven years since that moment, I have learned more than I ever thought I’d need to know about the nervous system, about the grooves that pain etches into the physical structure of the brain, about the range of physical sensations I can feel in discrete muscles, in connective tissues, along the pathways traced by nerves. I have, through circumstance, been forced to acquire a form of intelligence I’d never had before: an awareness of my own body.

Folks with high kinesthetic intelligence can control their movements with a high degree of accuracy and intentionality. When Shea Couleé quickly picks up complex choreography on RuPaul’s Drag Race, or when Son Heung-min dances through defenders to score yet another goal for Tottenham Hotspur F.C., we see their kinesthetic intelligence at work. In contrast, I—who stood 5’11” at age 13—didn’t make it onto the eighth-grade volleyball team. What a floundering disaster I must’ve been on the court that my height could not outbalance my utter lack of skill. Even when I returned to volleyball in my late 20s, I still couldn’t figure out the sequence my body was supposed to follow to be able to spike the ball.

But, after my injury, and through years of massage and Pilates and yoga and osteopathy and physical therapy, I have slowly begun to acquire bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. I still can’t mirror or repeat another person’s movements, but I’ve learned to make subtle, intentional, controlled movements to support my back and reduce my pain. I have nurtured and strengthened my bodily intelligence. This injury has been an education.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is one of multiple ways of being smart—or so said Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind. Gardner originally listed seven forms of intelligence: kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic-verbal, mathematical, musical, and visual-spatial. Since then, Gardner and others have added to this list, suggesting that there is also naturalistic, digital, comedic, culinary, and sexual intelligence. In his essay “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” (2008), David Foster Wallace argued that elite athletes—folks who might be described as having high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence—are geniuses who are incapable of articulating what their bodies know to do, and that rendering their movements into mere language would reduce their embodied knowledge and demote them from their heights of genius. As someone who considers herself high in linguistic-verbal intelligence, I take some comfort in telling myself that my ability to recite the poetry of both Gerard Manley Hopkins and James Hetfield has somehow caused my lifelong clumsiness. I may always have bruises on my shins, but at least I’ve got a mental filing cabinet with the lyrics of every song produced between 1994 and 2005.

As an editor, I bring my linguistic-verbal intelligence to the fore when I’m doing client work. I sometimes even exercise mathematical and visual-spatial smarts when helping with a grant budget or formatting a proposal. But I recognize that these are but three of the many ways of being smart, and that dedicating too much time to work and to nurturing my existing book smarts is detrimental to the deliberate practice I need to put in to strengthening my ability to move with care and intentionality. To be wise, we must foster and develop a range of forms of intelligence.

As Rich As Chocolate: Wealth Under Capitalism

Just as there are many ways of being smart, so too are there many ways of being rich. In 1985, the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu identified three forms of capital: economic capital, measured in money; social capital, measured in size and strength of interpersonal networks; and cultural capital, measured in both intellect and taste, as knowledge of social mores confer social status and power. (What Bourdieu thought of as cultural capital has much in common with contemporary concepts of inclusivity, belonging, and cultural safety.) Bourdieu highlighted these different forms of capital to describe how individuals can accrue influence and benefits—for instance, distinctions in social class can be attributed to high or to low amounts of cultural capital.

Yet in Bourdieu’s unshackling of the concept of capital from dollars and cents, we can imagine accruing and sharing wealth in multiple forms. Writing for the blog of Groundswell Alternative Business School, Trixie Ling identifies spiritual capital, place capital, natural capital, and experiential capital (2017) as forms of wealth that small business owners can cultivate. We can imagine that natural capital might involve access to green spaces and to water, while experiential capital could provide access to multiple perspectives or languages.

Just as narrowing our focus on a single form of intelligence can be detrimental to our holistic selves—including our fragile bodies—so too can focusing solely on economic capital come at a cost. As small business owners striving to work ethically, without hustling ourselves or others, we must account for diverse forms of wealth.

When did you last review your books and account for social, cultural, spiritual, natural, place, experiential, or any other form of capital that you build in your business?

Which forms of intelligence do you use to accrue a range of kinds of wealth?

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