Have you seen the news? There is a new breed of Homo Sapiens out there saving the world, climbing mountains, reading Rimbaud and solving physics problems at the same time, and mastering obscure foreign tongues, all in a day’s work. Do you believe it? Neither do I.
I read an op-ed today in the NYTimes called Super People. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend you do. While there is plenty of truth to the article, I find the idea of the so-called “super-person” grossly exaggerated. While students may be learning more broadly and going on more service-oriented cross-cultural trips, I think nowadays we give credit to people far too easily. Yes, it is more difficult to gain admission to elite schools, and yes, there is a resume-building game to play for those eager to get to the top, but we are kidding ourselves if we think someone is a “super-human” just because they have a knack for filling up a resumé.
My questions are, do these people have deep friendships or a coterie of awed admirers? Have they ever forsaken romance for achievements? When they help people, what motivates them at a deep level? Would they go on “service-learning” trips if there were a no-resumé listing rule? How often do they really go mountain climbing anyways? I personally think we have a tendency to incorporate things into our identity a bit too quickly, and that helping build a school in another country one summer means something totally different from devoting one’s entire career to the building of schools in needy places. I suppose I’d prefer to wait, oh, until the end of a super-person’s life, and then see if they did anything meaningful or lasting in the world, or if they are merely more motivated versions of the rest of us. Looking at the success of their marriages and family lives wouldn’t hurt either.