On Intellectual Generosity

“All you know you were taught” — Shona proverb.

We are the sum of people we spend time with. The literal translation & interpretation being we learn by osmosis.

If we are the sum of people, is it acceptable then, having formed your circle of friends, advisors and family, that when you propose a new idea, sentence or thought, you are met with ‘yes I knew that’. If no, is it that you are the last to know things and when you do, you share? If yes, are the others not telling you because they deem it unimportant? If unimportant, then is that testament to their inability to know you as a person? Or is it they don’t tell you because they assumed you already knew it? If no, then what? Intellectual selfishness?

As far as I know, it’s intellectually selfish not to share ideas with others who might share the same idea with you were they in your shoes. Because the sharing and cross pollination of ideas, makes us who we are, if we are truly the sum of everyone we spend time with.

Successful COO and CEO relationships are ones where either/or can function as the other, but does not excel as the other in doing that. In the absence of the CEO, the COO knows the meetings to attend and the questions to ask, but may not execute with the speed of the CEO. In the absence of the COO, the CEO knows the key issues to be dealt with but may fail to exhibit the same nuanced understanding of the COO. Intellectual generosity in this case, is about supporting and propping each other to succeed.

The best educators, mentors and advisors, rather than tell you what 2+2 amounts to, scaffold and arm you with the tools and more importantly, the confidence to attempt solving the problem. Intellectual generosity in this case, becomes an enabler.

In a relationship, its subtle. Consider the overweight partner in a relationship, who is subtly introduced to healthy food and long walks in the park. Over time, interests change from weekends on the couch, to exercise regimes. And never without judgement or castigation from the other party. Intellectual generosity in this case, is like nurturing and never paternalistic.

In diplomacy, intellectual generosity is far much more than libraries, cultural & exchange. The best political advisors, are the ones who recognise their dissonance and despite it, give the prince the best advice possible. Unable to remove their bias and advise accordingly, advisors cease to be the best person for that job. In that essence, intellectual generosity encompasses empathy, self awareness and respect for the office or individual receiving the advice. Always in their best interest.

For the prince himself, when presented with all the facts and options, intellectual generosity takes an interesting turn. It is no more about the past, present and the future, anymore than it is about justice and the interests of the many. For the prince knows that he is trusted to act in the best interest of the individual and therefore the many, intellectual generosity needs extraction from fictional priorities and follies of the governors. The prince’s most powerful weapon, is not the power in his title, but the understanding of his advisors, his foresight and of course, consideration of the facts and advice before him. From the prince, intellectual generosity is displayed in removing barriers that might stop the free flow exchange and promotion of ideas, even those that challenge him.

But in all its forms, it has one thing in common. It is never a willing disregard for the other person, rather it is a selfless quest to better the other. To challenge, encourage and make possible, the attainment of the other’s dreams. Intellectual generosity, viewed in these lenses, becomes an altruism not to common or improbable. It is intellectual generosity and not empathy, we should seek.