Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | August 16, 2012


All my life, my dad would tell me that I’m a genius. Dad was a highly intelligent man. He knew what genius was, and he wasn’t cheerleading. He meant it.

Hearing that from your father does a number on your head. I didn’t like hearing it. I didn’t want to be different or special or better or anything else that might be weird. When I got to the age that I accepted the fact that I am weird, (we all are, it’s just that some of us put more effort into hiding it than others,) I still didn’t like it. It was Dad’s way to encourage me to realize my potential. All my life he believed that I could do things that I never mustered enough confidence to attempt. I knew this, but it still bothered me. Somehow telling me I am a genius seemed hollow and missed the point. I didn’t know why or what the point was. I have a better idea now.

There is genius in my thinking and in what I write. There has been some genius in other things I’ve done, too. Does that make me a genius? We judge genius itself by potential, at least at first. Dad saw genius in me at a point when it was still latent: so far, I’d done little with it. But we judge geniuses after the fact by their results: work products and the effects of those products. From that perspective, it remains to be seen whether I am a genius or not. Still, this all seems hollow and misses the point.

Every creative person I’ve ever known and many that I’ve read about, regardless of their field, was intimately acquainted with inspiration. We all get inspirations now and then. Edward de Bono got rich teaching people how to harness their creativity, including methods to elicit inspiration when we want it. Great stuff. I recommend his book Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas published by HarperBusiness in 1992. Dad used to tell me about Eureka! experiences in his genetics research. Ask any research scientist if he or she is familiar with them. The creative ones are (which means most if not all). He used to wake up in the middle of the night with a flash of insight that gave him answers to problems he had struggled with for weeks, sometimes months. This was before neuroscience really took off, so he surmised that there are subconscious parts of our brains that work on important problems whether we are aware of it or not. Good guess.

Where does inspiration come from? Some say deep, subconscious parts of the psyche, some say God, some say angels, others say demons. Fiction authors are quite familiar with the experience of having their characters talk to them, even argue with them or castigate them for writing things about them that are not “true.” It’s something that fiction writers don’t necessarily want advertised, but ask some and see what they say. I know a dear Christian woman who sincerely believes that these authors are communicating with spirits, and for her that isn’t a good thing. I didn’t get the chance to ask her if some of them might be angels. Maybe I’ll get a chance to some day.

There are all kinds of theories about the sources of inspiration, and some of them are hotly debated. When people disagree, especially when a lot of people bring a lot of conflicting claims into an argument, I like to take a step back and see if there are assumptions that everyone holds in spite of their disagreements. Those assumptions sometimes yield interesting solutions to the problem. Sometimes, looking at those assumptions reveals that the problem isn’t really there.

Everyone who experiences inspirations agrees (or I’m sure will agree if asked) on an interesting feature: it feels like it comes from something, somewhere else. Inspiration comes to us, maybe even gets expressed through us, but it feels like it originates elsewhere. I know that there are folks intent on adding something like, “even though it actually does come from within us.” Even they would agree that it feels like it comes from something other than us. That’s exactly why they are so intent on adding their addendum. If inspiration felt like it originated within us, an addendum wouldn’t be necessary.

Even if we’re mistaken, the fact that inspiration feels like it comes from elsewhere makes it hard to take ownership. It is common among artists and musicians (I’ve been around them more than other creative types) to feel that they are channeling a message or even a spirit through their art or music. Their best, most inspired moments carry a sense of being moved by powers to serve as a vessel or a conduit for the message their work conveys. Athletes and race drivers talk about being in a “zone” in which they sometimes manage feats that surprise even them. And, although they are usually willing to take credit for their accomplishments, they rarely take credit for the inspiration that enabled them to do it.

Bottom line, even geniuses don’t take credit for what made them geniuses. For every genius who achieves celebrity, (as if that’s actually a desirable thing,) there are probably scores who had the same potential but didn’t do or were prevented from doing what would have brought them forward. Inspiration might be necessary, but so are other things, like recognition, sympathy of colleagues and powerful people, maybe an agent and an advertiser, or at least some strong advocates, and–possibly the most important–good timing and luck. History is fickle and greatness sometimes depends on (or is thwarted by) very arbitrary factors that have nothing to do with greatness. Celebrated geniuses know that much of the reason for the celebration has nothing to do with them.

So, to me, calling someone a genius misses the point. The real point is that genius is available to all of us. Genius is resident in all of us. There isn’t one of us who can’t be inspired. In fact, I believe that there is genius in every single person’s thinking and work, or would be if it weren’t so actively repressed. Others repress it, our society represses it, our cultural constructs, mores, and expectations repress it, and we were taught from very small to repress it in ourselves. It was hard for me to write, “There is genius in my thinking and what I write.” It felt conceited. I think that self-repressive conditioning is why.

By the time we reach adulthood, we end up in one of three camps:

  • The largest camp believes that they do not and never could have genius. They believe their gifts are nominal.
  • The second largest camp is afflicted by their genius. It causes them great pain, and so they try to escape torment by rejecting their gifts, or sometimes by ending the pain.
  • The third camp accepts the pain of genius and doesn’t let it stop them from expressing their gifts. These are our artists and thinkers and prophets and poets. Some use their gifts to benefit, some to personal profit, and others to the detriment of all. These include our great ones good and bad, some heroes and some monsters. Some of them show us the glorious heights we are capable of, and others show us the depraved depths.

We make a mistake to believe that our qualifications for membership in any of those camps are fated and unalterable. Overwhelmingly, we all err towards mediocrity, shirking our genius and impoverishing us all.

I have never met a person who wasn’t clearly capable of much more than he or she believed. That includes myself. There is no question that each of us is capable of genius. We have all received inspirations. We all have gifts. What we did with those inspirations and gifts depended a lot on what we believed that we were capable of doing with them. I wonder how much genius we have robbed each other and the world of because we believed that we were incapable of making something of it.

We need to compensate for our lack of faith. We must learn how to believe again. Otherwise, when it comes to our genius, we truly are in consort with the one that Jesus said came only to steal, kill, and destroy.



  1. Good to see you writing again after nearly a year here. How did the trip to Europe go? What’s happening with you? I haven’t read through this entirely but will give it a go as time allows and the upcoming days. Be well… tomreidy

  2. Nice to hear from you Tom! You’re on my list to email. (Really, I have a list I’m working down.) Would have gotten a form letter email from me sooner but I wanted to write more than that.

    PS. You probably don’t know about my other blogs. Started them after I worked for you:

    Just in case you wanna evern MORE reading, haha. Hope you’re doing well. You’ll be hearing from me…

  3. Wow. Great stuff baby. Good one. And yes, you’re right, it does lie within each of us, drawn out and serenaded by divine longing.

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