To Be Great Is to Be Misunderstood: What It Means and Why It’s True

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

What are your thoughts on this quote? Does it ring a bell and you immediately understand what it means? Or do you feel confused? Let’s discuss what the meaning of this quote is and why gifted people often feel misunderstood.

To Be Great Is to Be Misunderstood – The Meaning

This quote means that being gifted sometimes equals being too difficult to understand. This may result in social rejection.

When someone is much smarter and more creative than the average person, they may look too eccentric to those around them. Their ideas may sound like nonsense because they are too far ahead of their time.

The majority often rejects “lone geniuses”, and we can see many examples in history where the brightest inventors, poets, and thinkers were ostracized by their societies.

But I believe that this quote doesn’t refer only to the outstanding people who made world-famous discoveries and achievements. The message it conveys can be applied to every creative mind, deep thinker, and intelligent loner who feels misunderstood.

Now, let’s talk about the reasons behind this misunderstanding.

Why Do Gifted People Feel Misunderstood?

1. Their ideas are unaccepted

If we are talking about a really gifted individual, their ideas may be too far ahead of their time. Some of the greatest thinkers, including Albert Einstein, have faced misunderstanding and criticism even in the scientific circles.

So, what to say about an average person talking to an eccentric genius like Einstein or Tesla? Most likely, such a person wouldn’t understand a word.

2. They don’t have a lot in common with most people

Being highly intelligent brings a certain degree of loneliness with it. It happens simply because a gifted person has very different interests than the majority of people.

From favorite music to preferred pastimes, a highly intelligent person will choose things that aren’t popular among the general population. I doubt that they would spend their time watching sitcoms and reality shows most people enjoy.

This also means that they don’t have a lot in common with the majority of people, which makes it more difficult for them to make friends. Sometimes this may leave a gifted person feeling alone and misunderstood.

3. Lack of engaging conversations

Most of us wouldn’t be able to maintain an intelligent conversation on quantum physics or 19th-century English poetry, would we? We are usually concerned with more mundane topics, such as current work issues, or our relationships with other people.

But great thinkers aren’t interested in discussing day-to-day happenings or having small talk. Their minds gravitate toward the big questions of life. Unfortunately, they can’t find a lot of people to discuss these things with.

4. No one to share their passion with

A gifted person is usually passionate about what they do. Be it arts, literature, or mathematics, they are pretty enthusiastic about their area of expertise.

But what about their loved ones? Even if they support their genius in everything s/he does, it can be tiresome to constantly talk about the things they know nothing about. So, the smart one may feel like s/he is on a different wavelength to their family and friends.

If a gifted person’s family doesn’t approve of his/her passion, it’s even more difficult. It’s a sure way for a great thinker to feel misunderstood and rejected.

5. Different aspirations

Most great thinkers are uninterested in fleeting joys like fame and money, unlike the majority of people. They don’t care about the materialistic side of life that much.

That’s why they may feel misunderstood in our consumer society where everyone seems to be busy pursuing physical pleasures and material gains. They feel like outsiders to this hectic world of stock markets and shallow celebrities.

As you can see, Ralph Waldo Emerson was right, and it’s true that to be great is to be misunderstood. High intelligence and a lack of understanding from other people often go hand in hand. I hope that the meaning of this quote is clear now.

Despite this, a gifted person can be happy in a small circle of loyal friends and loving family members. After all, love and support of our nearest and dearest matters much more than the ephemeral approval of the masses.

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