Are well-being and giftedness compatible??? Should they be???


Doctor Rosemary Cathcart

Director, REACH Education Consultancy
Bay of Plenty
New Zealand


Is “well-being” simply the latest buzz-word? Or does it have real significance for gifted children?

It’s certainly a fairly recently popular term. Way back in pre-historic times (ie when I was at school), we wore uniforms, sang hymns at assembly, sat in straight rows in the classroom, the teachers taught from little platforms elevated above us, the boys got caned if disobedient and the girls got detention, and acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom was expected. (Though not all of us fully conformed with that. No further comment!)


Then along came the 1980s and the strange new concept of self-esteem made its first appearance in the New Zealand teacher’s lexicon. It did seem to make sense, though not an awful lot in our schools back then did that much for the self-esteem of gifted kids.


Now 40 years on, and along comes “well-being”. It’s not actually a new term, of course, but it’s undoubtedly newly popular. So let’s ask the difficult question. Is it just a “comfort food” word, or does it have real meaning?
The Concise Oxford defines well-being as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy”. Seemingly all very desirable. Let’s accept healthy as unarguable. But what does it mean to be comfortable or happy when you’re gifted?


When I think of the characteristics of gifted individuals, I think of people who are most comfortable and most happy when they have absorbing challenges in their lives, when they have opportunities to explore and question, when they are able to work outside boundaries determined by factors irrelevant to them, like age groupings in school.


I also think of those gifted individuals who are prepared to sacrifice their own comfort, even their own happiness at times, in confronting injustice and inequity in society. Can we do without these individuals? What does “well-being” mean in this context? It’s certainly not going to mean complacent “fitting in” or passivity, perhaps not even tranquility.


The difference between the dictionary definition of well-being and the conceptual ramifications of the term is a bit like the difference between “house” and “home”: one can be quite objectively described; the other has significant emotional and social implications and its interpretation can differ widely, even within a family.


Barth, in his very readable little book Improving Schools from Within, quoted some Zen Buddhist advice: when working with a bull, it is sometimes necessary to enlarge the fences. So when working with concepts like well-being, perhaps we also need to enlarge the constraints of our dictionary definition to embrace what we know about gifted individuals.


Let's formulate a concept of well-being that allows for that urge to question, that need for challenge, that drive to create, that courage to stand tall, that affirmation that for the gifted individual, well-being is about being able to be oneself.


About Rosemary Cathcart

Dr Rosemary Cathcart has been extensively involved in gifted education since the early 1980s and her work has reached all aspects of gifted education, including establishing the first one-day-school for gifted children in New Zealand. She is the director of REACH Education Consultancy, which provides professional learning and development for teachers, and the recipient of giftEDnz's Te Manu Kōtuku Award for 2020.




Posted as part of the 2020 New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour, run by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

The views and opinions expressed in the Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of NZCGE, their staff, and/or any/all contributors to Gifted Awareness Week.

Are well-being and giftedness compatible? Should they be?

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