“If we fought with real swords you’d be dead.”

I’ve been told my entire life that I’m a smart person. I was a “gifted” kid, brilliant, creative, destined to do amazing things, on and on. I’ve felt insecure before about my looks, how much money I make, the fact that I only speak one language or don’t know enough math, but almost never my general intelligence. The idea that I’m “smart” has been shoved down my throat since I was like six.

One of my favorite books ever is called The Last Samurai. In it, a brilliant kid meets his long-lost father, and decides that his father isn’t smart enough. Isn’t interesting enough. Isn’t good enough. So he goes looking for more fathers. Every time he meets a brilliant, famous journalist or scientist or artist, he tells them “I’m you’re son”. And he watches how they react.

He didn’t have any male role models as a kid; he was raised by a single (antisocial) mother. So to provide him those role models, his mother left Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” on loop throughout his entire childhood.

So throughout the book, when “testing” these potential “fathers”, he thinks to himself: “a good samurai will parry the blow”.

The only person he doesn’t tell the truth to is his actual father. He just can’t bring himself to tell him, because he knows, intellectually, emotionally, in every dimension, he could destroy his father. So he couldn’t say it; couldn’t reveal to this man that he is his son. He thinks to himself:

“If we fought with real swords you’d be dead.”

I felt this way frequently when I was growing up, and I never knew what to do about it. I still feel it sometimes. It’s not just about intelligence, it’s also about intensity. I’m an intense person. I’m a coiled spring that wants to snap back; I’m a dammed river. I want my torrent to be met with equal force.

The only sane, non-sociopathic way to deal with this feeling is to adopt an attitude of service. If I have any special intelligence, or creativity, or energy to offer, it must be put in the service of other people. That’s why I’m here.

Intelligence isn’t moral righteousness. It isn’t valuable by itself. Being smart doesn’t make you better than anyone else. If you don’t already know this and you feel compelled to test it, life will prove it to you painfully over and over again. You’re not more special, or more deserving, because you’re smart. On the contrary — you have greater responsibility to care for others.

But deep in the more selfish recesses of my heart, I’m always keeping my eye out.

“A good samurai will parry the blow.”

Steel on steel, and the freedom to push with all my might. The excitement, surprise, and growth of being challenged. The exultant rush involved in deploying myself fully. In being uncertain. In risk. When I meet someone who can fight back, I feel profound relief.

How can I say this? I feel less lonely.

There were moments, when I was growing up, where I would start to argue my perspective full force, and it was frequently treated as a problem. At church, at home, in school, and even occasionally with friends. Why are you being so mean, Devin. What is all this psychobabble, Devin. Why can’t you just do as you’re told, Devin.

I’m an adult now, and I look back on my self-centered obstinance with sadness and some humor, because I don’t think I understood how cruel I could be. But a scrap of that rambunctious fire is left, and it bursts to life when someone shoots back at my intellect and creativity with an equal and opposite gun.

Who here remembers what it was like to run, really full out run, when we were first discovering we could? Pounding across the grass, a limitless breathless rush?

Who here knows what it’s like to fight with real swords?

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