Master of the Minds: When Integrity and Character Become the Foundation for Intelligence


How Erin Kelly’s cerebral palsy helped her redefine what it means to be smart

“It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with my problems longer.”

Much has been said and studied about intelligence throughout the course of history. However, I think these particular words, made famous by Albert Einstein, carry substantial weight.

They look simple on the surface, but together, they speak metaphorically about what it means to carry a heavy load on your shoulders. That load—and the characteristics required to carry it—comes in many forms. However, I don’t think one can fairly talk about intelligence, integrity, character, and every other trait known to man without acknowledging the weight a disability carries.

This quote is one that connected with me in a very profound way because the more I read it the more I could relate to its truth.

I’ve always been told I’m smart, but I didn’t believe being smart had anything to do with my ability to put words together on a page. I never had a real reason as to why I thought that, but facing the world as an adult now, I realize it was never a matter of how “smart” I was.

I was so driven and enthralled by the fact that I always had to prove myself that I didn’t give much thought to how high or low my IQ was. I just did my thing, and hoped that it was enough. In fact, I still have trouble falling in love with the idea that my ability to write—or to figure out my own way of doing certain things—is somehow connected to my intelligence.

Somewhere along the line, however, I became a perfectionist. I readily admit that I still am one to this day, but again, I think it’s a result of the world constantly casting a shadow of doubt on me.

That’s why this particular quote stirred something inside me. If you break it down into pieces, you’ve got two very different schools of thought—perception and reality. Having a disability draws a clear line between the two, and sometimes, there’s little to no room to blur that line.

It got me thinking about how people perceive intelligence, and how easy it is to confuse it with intellect. Not only that, but it also made me think about why I’m a perfectionist. Is it because I’m in a line of work where I’m expected to spell every word I write correctly? Is it because I know I have to produce the same quality of work every time I submit a story—or is it a direct result of my childhood?

In dealing with a disability, I think you become much more aware of your own senses and surroundings and your mind becomes sharper as a result. If you want to go even deeper, the quote acts as a perfect metaphor for not only what it means to have a disability, but also what it’s like to live that world.

Einstein’s words speak volumes about integrity and character—traits that aren’t typically associated with intelligence. In fact, one can argue that these are two separate things that can be recognized and defined on their own—perhaps even to say you don’t need character or integrity in order to be smart.

I find that when you’re trying to do something simple, like taking the cap off a bottle of soda, it becomes your immediate reality. You become so focused on that task that nothing else matters at that point.

It may take the person next to you one swift twist of the wrist to get that cap off— but you’ve done it before, so you try a hundred times. Then you try again. In doing so, character and integrity become the building blocks for intelligence.

You do this one thing so many times that you become your own teacher. Your methods may seem unorthodox or even silly to someone on the outside looking in, but it’s how you’ve made it as far as you have in this world.

To me, that has nothing to do with intelligence. I think it’s more a force of habit that seeps into your soul when you’re faced with adversity. The way you handle it defines your character.

It goes to show that while you may not do things perfectly or in the “normal” fashion like the rest of the world, you’re still willing to get your hands dirty and get the job done.

–Photo: ryan2point0/Flickr

About Erin Kelly

Erin M. Kelly is the Social Justice Editor at The Good Men Project. She is also a columnist and writer with Cerebral Palsy who wants to be recognized for her work rather than her disability. She’s a 2009 graduate of Penn State Altoona, where she majored in Letters, Arts and Sciences. During her senior year, she was hired as a columnist for The Altoona Mirror, the daily newspaper in Altoona, PA. Her column entitled, “The View From Here,” runs monthly and addresses in a light-hearted, humorous manner the challenges she faces daily. She is also the editor of "To Cope and to Prevail", memoir of Penn State Altoona professor Dr. Ilse-Rose Warg. Find Erin on Twitter @WriterWheels.


  1. Erin Kelly says:

    Thanks, everyone. I feel things like this need to be addressed sometimes, because they can get buried underneath the materialistic aspects of life. More importantly, they’re what make us human. I’m grateful I could be one of hopefully many to bring that reminder to the forefront – and do it in a way that’s relatable to all of you.

  2. Ana Marinovic says:

    Very powerful read Erin. Also an amazing articulation of the power of presence. Thank You 🙂

  3. Dean Marcaurelle says:

    Great job once again, Erin … from your very unique point of view. DEAN

  4. Wonderful piece, Erin. I wish more people would embrace that notion, begin with the basics, character and integrity, and work forward to accomplishment. Too often it’s the other way, with the inflection point an unfortunate apology following a late personal revelation. If the revelation can come early enough, as you suggest from your keen insights, the apology can be moot and the outcome a full success.

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