Wasted talents and squandered wits

By: Joel Ruiz Butuyan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | March 23,2023 - 08:00 AM

One of the biggest wonders of the human race is that its members are endowed with an immense variety of interests and a vast diversity of talents. Do we ever wonder why different persons get interested in teeth enough to become dentists, in minerals to become geologists, in the weather to become meteorologists, in insects to become entomologists, and in sketching figures to become painters? Are we not amazed about why different people become astronomers, mechanical engineers, veterinarians, concert pianists, chefs, and chess grandmasters? What makes human beings possess a variety of interests and talents? Are these embedded in our genes because of the accumulation of unique factors passed on from generations of inherited genes? Have these interests evolved because of our exposure to experiences and influences early in our lives? Do these talents develop because of training and learnings that we pursue?

Our society’s default and myopic measure of intellect is fluency in speaking and writing in the English language. Anyone who speaks or writes in English with bad grammar is looked down upon as having inferior intelligence. But spend enough time conversing with and probing the interests of anyone who may not be proficient in our colonial language, and you’re bound to discover an inherent talent in something else.

These thoughts crossed my mind after reading an article shared by a chat group titled “The Philippines Is Dead Last in the Ranking of Smartest Countries in Asean.” It was published by Esquire Magazine in October 2019, a few months before the pandemic, based on data aggregated by the World Population Review (worldpopulationreview.com) on the national intelligence quotient average of countries all over the world. Intelligence quotient (IQ) is defined as a measure of human intelligence. The 2019 study revealed that with a national IQ average of 86, the Philippines trailed behind all its peers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), such as Singapore (108), Malaysia (92), Thailand (91), Cambodia (91), Brunei (91), Laos (89), Indonesia (87), and Myanmar (87), except for Timor-Leste which had no figures on it.

When I looked online for an updated version of the review, I found that for the year 2023, the Philippines’ average IQ went down further to 81, from 86 in 2019. Our country ranked 111th out of 199 countries, with our IQ average lower than those of several countries ravaged by war and civil unrest, or ruled by ruthless dictators, such as North Korea (98), Myanmar (91), Iraq (89), Sri Lanka (86), Haiti (82), and Afghanistan (82). The countries with the highest IQ scores are Japan (106), Taiwan (106), and Singapore (105). The World Population Review explains that “IQ scores typically reflect the quality of education and resources available to people in their local geographic region. Areas of the world with lower IQ scores are typically poorer and less developed, particularly in the area of education, compared to countries with higher IQ scores.”

But few countries that are poorer, less developed, and war-torn with more serious social problems, have higher national IQ levels compared to ours. This shows that, in addition to wealth and societal discord, there are additional factors that have been preventing our people from maximizing their innate gifts and preventing our country from harvesting the benefits of people flourishing with natural talents. It is dismaying to imagine that we have so many young people who end up pursuing careers or jobs as nurses, police/military officers, call center agents, construction workers, farmworkers, or street vendors, because their primordial need is to put food on the table, despite being gifted with exceptional talents in other fields. The most heartbreaking consequence for a country like ours that is racked with corruption, wrong governmental priorities, and monopoly of wealth and opportunities, cannot be measured in monetary terms. The heartrending tragedy lies beyond measure in a country rendered desolate by wasted talents and squandered wits.


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