Does society accept nerds?
We’ve embraced the positive: the nerd’s endearing love & enthusiasm for obscure branches of knowledge. But there’s still discomfort with the dark side of nerddom, aka social disability. That is not to imply that all intelligent people are socially handicapped (sure, there’s a lot of variety) but there is some correlation between intellectual excellence and social weakness.
Social disability is one of the more painful handicaps a person can have. All humans need love and connection but without social skills and ability it is much more difficult to fill these needs. When I include socially disabled friends in group activities, my socially abled friends get extremely upset with me.
Basically, they dislike the expenditure of emotional and mental energy it takes to knit the weird person into the fabric of the group. But I believe this investment is worthwhile. We willingly pay for ramps to be installed on municipal buildings and for traffic lights to chirp at blind people. Perhaps one day our attitude towards social disability will be as progressive as our attitude towards physical disability.
My father, a math professor, works exceptionally hard to help young nerds weave themselves into the social fabric. A genius student of Dad’s once severely annoyed everyone in his community with his arrogant behavior. My father told me, “I need to teach him better ways, so that people don’t come after him with torches and pitchforks.”
Several times during my life, my father has placed his hands on my shoulders, stared deeply into my eyes, and said very seriously, “Charlotte. It is ill to leave dark the minds of the mageborn,” which is a quote from the Wizard of EarthSea trilogy. For my dad, “the mageborn” is the perfect metaphor for nerds; people of unusual talent & ability. When you fail to make talented but annoying people part of your community, the community is damaged and incomplete. This was the message of the EarthSea trilogy, and also my father’s message to me.
Just as we used to blame people for their mental and physical disabilities, we currently blame people for their social disabilities. “You wouldn’t have these problems if you just tried harder.” But they literally cannot see certain currents of emotion and motivation that are visible to those more endowed by nature. We blame them for lacking empathy when all they lack is understanding. The love they feel for others is as fierce or fiercer than the love of the socially abled, trust me.