I was talking to a friend last night about intelligence. Her husband has a genius-level IQ, and yet is insecure about his intelligence. So he makes a special point of knowing useless trivia for the purpose of proving to people that he is smart. Here's a man after my own heart - I, too, love useless trivia, enough that I passed the test to be on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I like peppering a conversation with pertinent facts. In high school I was known by my friends for saying, when asked how I knew something random like how many pairs of ruby slippers they made for the Wizard of Oz (at least 5), I frequently replied, "I read a book on it once." I told my friend that I, too, want people to think I'm smart.
But I realized that's not my motivation exactly. In truth, I want people to not think I'm stupid. I think there's a big difference - I'm not looking for people to laud me for an attribute, I want to avoid people thinking I have a lack. I have a very large fear of attempting to say something intelligent, but having people instead think, or worse yet, say, "That was stupid."
Which is not to say that I don't say stupid things. That's kind of the problem - I say stupid things All. The. Time. Usually in a misguided attempt at humor, I make a complete idiot out of myself. For example, making a joke about polygamy to the friend whose husband cheated on her. Not funny. I could tell by the complete and utter silence that followed that the joke was not only not funny, but I was quite stupid for making it.
Or the gym friend who had a baby that I had never seen. We were joking that maybe she just made up that baby as a practical joke, and it was funny until I said, "Well, you wouldn't gain THAT much weight for a practical joke!" Whoops. I thought we were joking! She went from laughing to stony silence in one exercise-heightened heartbeat.
The worst is making a joke while you're giving a talk - that audience is primed for laughter, I tell you, and if your joke bombs, it's a BIG bomb. Although for me, nothing is quite as painful as the time (way back when I was single) that I was listening to the boy I had a massive crush on talking to a group of people. He used some latin word that I thought was a double-entendre, and I burst out laughing at what I thought was his super-intelligent joke. It was not a super-intelligent joke, and no one else laughed. He looked at me and said, "Do you even know what (that word) means?" Alas, I did not. And I felt stupid with a capital Stu.
So I make a concerted effort to know things before I comment on them. If I'm not quite sure what something means, I try to stop myself from spouting an opinion on the subject. That poses a particular challenge, because I can come up with an opinion on just about any subject, whether I know what I'm talking about or not. My modus operandi is to scrape together all of the information I know on a subject, and turn it into an intelligent question, which proves that not only do I know enough to ask a pertinent question, but also lets the other person feel more intelligent than me. So in one fell swoop, I can show off my smarts AND be humble at the same time!
Fortunately, I'm surrounded by people who either a) politely fail to acknowledge when I say something stupid, or b) are willing to put up with the occasional stupidity in hopes that I say something really funny to make up for it. And I'm getting better at evaluating the stupidity-potential of my comments before I let them out of my head. Any intelligence gathering is more to cover up anything stupid that might slip through the filter than to convince people that I'm smart. Maybe if I make it onto Jeopardy someday I could rise to being actually intelligent, provided I don't say something stupid to Alex and blow my cover in front of the entire country. I don't think the filter is ready for that quite yet.