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Half Empty or Half Full

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (November 16, 2013)

When you look at the glass, do you think it’s half empty or half full? For those with a more positive outlook on life, you would say it’s half full. And for those with a more negative outlook on life, you would say it’s half empty. The situation may be the same, but it’s all about perception. Many people have a half full/half empty mentality when looking at their own children.

I’m a strong believer that every child is a gem and is intelligent, but each child is intelligent in a different way. With Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, it gives us a great framework to observe and educate children with an understanding that each person is uniquely designed and created. The intelligences that are listed in Gardner’s theory are:

  • Linguistic – intelligence in language and words

  • Mathematic-Logical – intelligence with numbers and logic

  • Visual-Spatial – intelligence with spatial judgment and how things look

  • Musical – intelligence with sounds, tones, rhythm and music

  • Bodily-Kinesthetic – intelligence with movement and use of the body

  • Interpersonal – intelligence with understanding and interacting with others

  • Intrapersonal – intelligence with understanding oneself

  • Naturalist – intelligence with understanding nature and the world

Each person has a mix of intelligences, each ‘intelligence’ to a different degree. So for example, a child could be intelligent in using words and expressing himself (linguistic), able to articulate how he’s feeling (intrapersonal) and is well-coordinated in playing sports (bodily-kinesthetic). Another child could have a great sense of rhythm (musical) and works well with numbers (mathematic-logical).

I’ve met many children through my line of work and the thing that still fascinates me is how interestingly intelligent each child is. I’ve come to appreciate what Albert Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” There’s one 4-year-old girl I know that is amazing with words and can read words that even 8 year olds don’t know but she doesn’t have strong social skills. Then I know an 8-year-old boy who can read people’s emotions in an instant and is extremely personable but can’t spell simple words. Is one more intelligent than another? I think they are both extremely intelligent, but in different ways.

I think the problem is that many people still use a certain set of benchmarks to assess a child’s ‘intelligence’. The traditional form of defining intelligence is how well a child can read, write and do math (linguistic and mathematic-logical); less emphasis is given to ability in sports, music and social skills (bodily-kinesthetic, musical and interpersonal).

Every child has a unique set of giftings and it’s really up to us as parents and educators to see them as ‘half full’ and not ‘half empty’. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be identifying ways to help children improve in the areas they are weak at but if we’re always focusing on the half empty part of the glass, we can’t truly appreciate them for the part that they are half full at. It can be challenging to do, and frustrating at time, so every day I say:

Lord, help me to see each person I encounter as being ‘half full’.

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