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Remember a few years back when there were constant references to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences”?

His premise was that beyond what most of us grew up believing about intelligence and notions of IQ, that intelligence was basically about academic smarts. His definition of intelligence pointed out that different people have different kinds of intelligences.

Gardner enumerated eight types of intelligence, with category names that were not terribly catchy: linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist.

Many years later, he came out with what he said was a potential ninth type of intelligence: existential.

The term “spiritual intelligence” was first coined somewhere around the year 2000.

Independent of whether there are eight or nine types of intelligence, there are just too many to remember.

Also, some of those “intelligences” may really just be skills acquired by those with the luxury to be able to practice them.

Recognizing, developing and practicing so many intelligences would likely be a luxury or novelty for the half of Mexico’s population living in survival mode, just trying to keep food on the table.

So what is Mexican intelligence?  Does such a thing exist?

Of course not. All countries are shaped by their culture, and Mexico is no different. While there may not be a “Mexican intelligence” per se, there sure seems to be a certain phenomenon operating if more than half of the population can survive with so little, including in some regions, where most people have only six to eight years of formal schooling.

So I started to think about: If there really is such a thing as Mexican intelligence, what might be the Gardner categories?

First, of course, there would be academic intelligence. That is a no-brainer. Even if minimal, reading and writing are usually not self-taught.

Second, we would have to include emotional intelligence. Of the Gardner-type categories, this one seems to be the most important.

The third type of intelligence that I would throw into the mix would be spiritual intelligence. Not religious, but spiritual.

If some two-thirds of Mexican households have an altar or shrine inside the house, including a lit votive candle, it seems to give credence to a dimension of something spiritual, by definition, something with mystery. These altars are a daily reminder that there is more to life than the here and now.

Archeological digs have found the Aztec custom of home altars dating to a period well before the arrival of the Spanish. These altars were not found just in established temples, but in ordinary homes.

Another great example comes out every year at Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations, when death is simultaneously mocked, celebrated and given tangible gifts or offerings. The whole relationship between life and death in Mexico points to an existential dimension.

The Spanish language itself has numerous examples of spirituality: “God-willing,” certain expressions of surprise and blessings. In English, to the contrary,  “God-bless-you” seems to be the only expression to have survived, often omitting the word God.

So, my best shot at defining Mexican intelligence would be a combination of academic, emotional and spiritual.

Who knows what the percentage might be for each of these three types of intellect, which are certainly not divided into even thirds, but the combination of emotional and spiritual intelligence seems to produce a kind of street smart intelligence in Mexico, which may be the most useful type of intelligence after all. And that, my friends, makes Mexicans very smart on the Gardner scale.


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