“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”

~Albert Einstein~
Intellectual courage is a problematic type of courage to discuss. Most people can pretty easily understand what we mean by emotional or moral courage, and certainly physical courage is pretty self-evident. But what is intellectual courage? Why do you need courage to think?

You can imagine my delight at finding the words above by Einstein, widely considered one of the greatest intellectuals in human history. Evidently, he felt that creativity and flexibility of thought and ideas made all the difference. The willingness to propose an unconventional idea to others may take social courage, but the ability to form that unconventional idea takes intellectual courage, in my opinion. It requires a mind that does not shy away from dragons and dark forests, a mind accustomed to thinking that impossible things are possible, given enough time to find the right solution. Climbing a mountain of glass can happen in fairy tales. It does happen in fairy tales. Sorting out all the lentils from an ash heap in an hour can and does happen. Spinning straw into gold can and does happen.

Of course the right solution is part of this, and part of intellectual courage is the ability to try many many solutions. Thomas Edison famously tried hundreds of different materials for filaments in his quest to perfect the incandescent light bulb. If he had given up after twenty tries, or even fifty, the world might look quite different right now. Taking failure as a signal to keep trying, rather than a sign to give up: that’s courage.
Babies don’t give up trying to walk just because they fall down a lot when they’re learning. To a baby, the whole world seems as impossible to climb as a glass mountain, yet babies don’t give up. Somehow all healthy babies have the will to keep going at it; if they didn’t, the world would be full of people crawling along the sidewalks. But the world isn’t full of crawling people, the world is full of walking people. Our job as parents is to help bolster that same will in our children’s intellectual life.
Folk tales and myths are full of helpers and guides. As parents, we play that role to our children, handing out magical feathers or cryptic rhymes when they reach a fork in the path. It’s not answers we need to give them, it’s the tools and talismans for finding the answers on their own. I believe fairy tales can be one of those tools. That’s my theory of special relativity.

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