Book Smart Vs. Street Smart: Why Can’t We Be Both?


I once heard someone utter the phrase, “When someone says that they aren’t street smart, but book smart, what I really hear is, ‘I’m not real smart, but I’m imaginary smart.’ “ I don’t have to tell you which side believes this, but I have one simple question: Who decided that “book” smart is the only “smart” a person could be?

The dictionary shows one definition “smart” as follows: having or showing quick intelligence or ready mental capability. Now, unless I’m reading something incorrectly, nowhere in there does it say that there can’t be multiple types of “smart” and they sure as hell aren’t all “imaginary.” I know that most of the time we use the term “smart,” it references “book” smarts more so than any other level of smart.

Don’t get me wrong; I consider myself a little “book” smart. I’m sort of a nerd when it comes to certain things and I’m not ashamed to love trivia games, Jeopardy! and things of that nature. There’s nothing wrong with having the “nerdy” book smarts. Knowing those things that many people don’t know. Being interested in those college-level topics that a lot of people couldn’t care less about. Genius-type stuff…there’s nothing wrong with any of that.

However, I also consider myself as a little “street smart.” What does this mean?

Street smart is basically dealing with LIFE. Everything can’t be answered through Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit. The square root of a million means nothing when you encounter a rude person on the street or if someone cuts you off in line at the supermarket. You could study a driving book forward and backward and be able to recite it verbatim, but as I live on the east coast, anyone who has driven on Interstate 95 knows that you will encounter situations many times that aren’t covered in the book.

It’s things like that that are included as “street smart.” But here’s another question:

Why can’t we be both?

I get it. These days, everything has to be a competition. So often, even when there’s plenty of room for more than one of something, it still has to be a competition and we have to choose. Now in watching or playing sports, that makes sense, because the whole purpose is for one side to win, in most cases. But let’s take music, for example; I remember someone asked me once what my favorite type was and I answered, “Oh, I listen to old school hip hop, jazz, a little R+B, some Motown…” and they looked at me like I had a third eye growing out of my forehead. As we continued, it was apparent that he was looking for me to give just ONE answer. Seriously…just one?! It’s music. We’re allowed to be in different moods, right?

But as for book smarts and street smarts, why does one have to be “better” than the other? Why are book smart people considered as “nerds” (many times, in a derogatory manner) and street smart people considered as “imaginary smart”?

Yes, I’ll admit that at one time, I thought book smart was the only way to be. This was many, many years ago as a child. But when I started to get out there and experience LIFE, I realized that book smarts alone wasn’t going to cut it. And one thing I learned for certain was that it I was determined to remain just book smart and nothing else, I was in for a world of trouble.

The bottom line is that as with many other things in life, there are times when book smarts come in handy and other times when street smarts are the way to go. Let’s take my driving example again. Now obviously you can’t just get on the road and start driving with no experience whatsoever (even though it seems as if many already do). You NEED the book. However, get on I-95 or any other major interstate and without a little street smarts, that book will do very little for you.

But let me state this again: That does not mean one is better than the other. They’re just different. Sometimes one works while the other doesn’t as well, and vice versa.

Something else I’ve noticed is that one side always wants to attack the other and seemingly avoid stepping outside of their comfort zone to do a little of the other. What’s wrong with knowing a little more? Even if you know that driving book from cover to cover, what’s the harm in asking someone how they deal with a traffic jam, or just how fast they can get away with going without being pulled over for speeding? That’s just extra information that you can keep in your back pocket whenever you need it.

As for the street smart folks, stop avoiding book smart people as if you’re going to catch some disease from them. Just like they can bend and learn a little from you, you can stand to learn a little something from them also. Winging it and relying on “street smarts” is absolutely NOT the best way to go every time. Go ahead and get on Interstate 95 on an extended trip without ever reading the book and tell me how that goes for you. Oh, you’ll survive…but you’ll realize just how many times you can say all the four-letter words in your vocabulary. If you don’t say them already, trust me…YOU WILL.

Many times, competition can be fun, when done right. Other times, it’s not so much fun and even other times than that, it’s really not even necessary at all. I feel this is one of those times. This is just me, but in any case where we’re able to learn more, and I never consider something as being “too much.”

After all, I think it’s better to know more and not need it than to know less and not have what you need.

Thanks for reading.

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