Too Smart?

Posted: February 15, 2008 in Discrimination, Employment, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Stereotypes

I’ll admit it. When I was young(er) I was often times a smart aleck. And whenever I "acted" like a smart aleck I’d inevitably be told,

"Don’t get smart with me, young man!"

I could never really understand that. On the one hand, I was encouraged to do my best at my studies. On the other, I’d be accused to being too smart for my own good. In fact, I could never understand how a person could be too smart. I had always imagined that it was advantageous to become as smart as possible. Silly me.  

Still, I’m wondering if it is possible for a person to be too smart for their own good. I mean, it is possible that being smart could possibly work against a person; become a disability, as it were?

Well, it turns out that, yes, being too smart can be a handicap.

The average person is of… well, average intelligence. That’s just the way it is.

Regardless of what the average person may believe, homeless people aren’t necessarily unintelligent. I’ve met a good number of homeless who are, in fact, far more intelligent than many a non-homeless person I’ve met. Yet, for some reason, most people still think that a homeless person doesn’t have too much going on "upstairs." Perhaps it has to do with the view that most people have regarding the homeless.

In fact, it actually shows a lack of "smarts" to put social labels on any segment of society based purely on stereotypes. But that happens to the homeless more times than not. They are seen as "beneath" the rest of society because they are homeless. It’s a type of "birds of a feather…" mentality. Because, after all, if a person is homeless, there most certainly be something wrong with them or else they wouldn’t be homeless, right?


As I said a bit earlier, being smart can be a handicap. I know some homeless for whom their intelligence has actually prevented them from being able to acquire employment. That may sound strange, but it is true nonetheless.

One homeless gentleman I met about 14 months ago submitted his resume for a job that he was qualified for. Had the training. Had the certifications or degrees (I don’t remember which) necessary to do the job. Dressed nice. Maintained a well groomed appearance. In fact, he looked distinctly out of place among the rest of the homeless. His dress shirts, ties and dress slacks, clashed with the jeans and sweatshirts of the other homeless.

He was actually called in for an interview. I remember that day, because he’d ridden the city bus with the rest of us. When he said that he was on his way to the interview, it was easy to see that he was excited about potentially getting the position. I wished him luck and told him that I’d keep both sets of fingers crossed.

That evening, when I saw him I asked how the interview had gone. He said that it had gone okay. I asked if he thought he had a chance at getting the position. At that moment, the look in his eyes told me that he didn’t think that he was going to get the position, despite his being qualified for it.

As he began to recount what had occurred at the interview I could see the disappointment written all over his face.

What had occurred is this: at some point during the interview, it somehow came out that he was currently homeless. The person who was conducting the interview had a difficult time reconciling the fact that this was obviously an intelligent person who was applying for the job but for some reason was homeless.

When this homeless gentleman was asked why he was homeless, he told the interviewer that after his divorce he had found himself struggling financially. The amount of alimony and child support he was required to pay by the courts had left him having a hard time paying his own bills. His vehicle had been repossessed and finally he couldn’t afford his apartment. He had moved into a cheap motel for a while, then moved in with some friends. Because of the distance he had to travel and having to rely on public transit, he’d shown up for work late a number of times and they had finally let him go.

The person conducting the interview still couldn’t understand how a man who was relatively intelligent could end up homeless – unless…

It was at that point that the interviewer asked this gentleman if he had lost his job because he used drugs or alcohol.

Unfortunately he didn’t get the job. As it turns out the person who did get the job was less intelligent and less qualified for the position.

This isn’t an isolated incident. There are other homeless who have had a hard time getting a job because they were "too smart to be homeless."

For some reason, which I’m probably not smart enough to understand, many people find it extremely difficult to accept that a person can be intelligent and find themselves homeless. In the minds of many, a homeless person who happens to be intelligent must have something wrong with them; they must be hiding some deep dark secret that led them to become homeless.

A person who is homeless and intelligent seems to many a contradiction in terms. But just because a person has lost their home doesn’t mean they’ve lost their smarts. Residentially challenged does not denote intellectually challenged.

It might be wise if we kept that in mind.

  1. A Grandmother says:

    First, let me say you are pretty smart, and your writing demonstrates it.

    I see similarities between homelessness and underemployment or under-achievement in your post. There are plenty of people working at jobs that’re not utilizing their full potential and therefore, not earning near what they should be. Or they don’t “have as much” as the next person. But they have bills to pay and circumstances that are sometimes foreign and perplexing.

    That doesn’t make them less intelligent or lazy or unwilling to apply themselves.

    And these same people are perhaps near to becoming homeless, often surviving week to week. Yet the lack of affordable housing continues to grow, and landlords continue to increase the rents. After all, our economy works on these supply and demand principles.

    Unfortunately, there’s a tendency of some people to view others who have less than them, whether it’s money, job stature, or things (houses, cars, gadgets) either with sympathy or superiority. The media and so much of popular culture values more, more, more.

    We’re all in this society together, and how we think about, treat and interact with one another are the things that really matter.

    Thank you for making that much clearer to me.

    A Grandmother,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. We are indeed in this society together. All the more reason that we should learn to be kind to one another – regardless of our “residential” or economic status.

    Thank you for further making things clearer.

    – m –

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