I was sardined on a bus with garlic pesto-breath blowing in from the east and a mother-son argument brewing in the west. In honour of my gag reflex I opted for the argument.
I opted into eye contact with the kid.
He was maybe six years old and cute as a button—a deer-in-headlights button at the moment. Too smart for his own good. This was his mother’s opinion. What does that even mean? That was his.
Well kid, I have no idea—what’d ya’ do?
I understood his confusion, having been on the receiving end of this recrimination more than once growing up. I took it to mean that I wasn’t very smart at all.
Really—no one says this when they’re happy with you.
Of course I asked ‘why?’ or ‘what does that even mean?’ thereby reducing myself to a ‘smartass’ in need of a time-out on a beautiful summer day. See? Not too bright. I could have been equally reflective and answerless whilst frolicking through the fucking daisies.
It was a parental thing, usually, or a nun thing, occasionally. But it was never a ‘me’ thing until I got older and realised that this phrase is a social commentary typically reserved for bad manners, bad attitude, or overreaching.
And it appears to be reserved for adults.
Like any typical underage borderline sociopath identified as ‘child’ I honed in on such adults with merciless precision. A serious interrogation on the meaning of life, locution, and human nature was excruciating for them; hence, they became my go-to for such questions.
It was a divine waste of time though this lack of specificity remains a credibility killer and a sign of weakness to my mind.
This, despite my awareness of my own occasional culpability.
‘Too smart for your own good’ was downgraded to one more thing adults said when they were pissed about life. And they were always pissed about life. Who wanted to be adult when they were a kid? Angry about everything, no energy for anything, hunted by the tax man and the spouse…
Adults were too disgruntled about being alive for me to take them seriously.
So kid, here’s what I would suggest to you (and my six year old self) when someone tells you you’re too smart for your own good:
1. You pissed them off.
2. You aren’t all that smart, at least in their eyes.
3. A broken clock is right twice a day—maybe it’s time to reconsider your approach even if you don’t hold the adult in question in high regard.
4. The adults you will listen to most are the ones you wouldn’t mind becoming. My grandmother was just such a person though she always seemed out of my league. Perhaps I should have tried harder. Try harder.
5. You don’t have to be too smart for your own good—you just have to be smarter than the cranky, passive-aggressive adults who look like they contemplate death before even getting out of bed in the morning.
6. Also, don’t try to outsmart a smart person’s warning, but don’t forget that not everyone is intelligent. Adulthood is independent of age. Not every old person is an adult, nor is every young person a fool.
7. Quality counts more than quantity when it comes to years lived.
8. Reserve the right to disregard anyone over the age of twenty-five who refuses to be specific in their criticism. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.
And head’s up kid—you won’t be a vulnerable, unenlightened sociopath forever.