Dolores Leeuwin foto © Willem Jan de Bruin
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If the Corona crisis makes something clear to us, it is that the solutions of the past no longer work for today’s problems. But in order to achieve those new solutions and create real innovations that benefit society, something has to change in the way we look at the world. Curiosity, the basis for everything we do at Innovation Origins, is crucial, as the research of Danae Bodewes shows. In a series of interviews, she talks to curious types who each in their own way provide the building blocks for a life filled with curiosity. Here’s the complete series so far.

Curious types: Dolores Leeuwin (48) presenter, actress, sparring partner, and speaker

Dolores Leeuwin is known as the presenter of, among others, the Dutch children’s tv-show Het Klokhuis. In 2012 she participated in the television program the national IQ Test. To her own surprise, she won with the highest IQ-score (156) ever in the program. Due to the insight that she is highly gifted, suddenly everything fell into place. Dolores’ core message is that every person should feel seen and heard. It is a message that demands a long breath and persuasiveness. Exactly the two qualities Dolores possesses.

Curiosity is one of the characteristics of gifted people. How curious is Dolores? And how does Dolores’ mission relate to curiosity? We had a very nice conversation about it. A conversation in which Dolores shared insights that will always stay with me and that I would like to share with you. Dolores’ message is simple, clear, and true, but challenging as well.

On your website, you indicate that you are described as curious. What does being curious mean to you personally?

For me, being curious means deepening, finding handles and becoming conscious.

You mean you’re looking for handles?

Yeah, maybe, but it’s more because I see so many new possibilities. At school, for example, when we did multiple-choice questions, I saw a truth in every possibility. So I couldn’t figure it out. For me, curiosity is really wanting to know why things. are like they are. Because it interests me.

In what way does your curiosity express itself?

By trying to find out things. I search the internet a lot and I talk to people a lot. If I hear or see something I dig on the internet for more information. When I have the information I spar about it with friends. My curiosity can be found in questions like who are you and what drives you? I only find out if I talk to people a lot.

Is it possible for you to stop the digging?

It doesn’t bother me if that’s what you mean. In that search, you always come across new insights and that’s nice; so that I can ask new questions and become more aware of what’s going on around me. I don’t need to know everything, but I like it when I’m alerted.

How does curiosity make you feel?

Excitement is the right word.

Is that always positive?

Yeah, that’s always positive.

How can someone who doesn’t know you notice you being curious?

You can see it in my face and posture. I can’t mask it. I sit down and ask a lot of questions. I’ll say: I’m sorry, I’m going to ask a lot of questions because I’m on to something and then I want to know, to know, to know.

You have a mission and clear insights on how this mission could be realized. How do you make other people curious about this mission and insights? How do you make people think?

I never really thought about that. I’ve worked for Klokhuis for fourteen years with great pleasure. Precisely because that’s what it was all about: Why was that? How does this work? And precisely because I was allowed to ask questions that you, as an adult, aren’t expected to ask. At one point I found out that I am highly talented. I wondered: How is it possible that no one has ever seen that? From there I started looking further.

It seems as if the contacts and goodwill I have built up through the Klokhuis are now paying off. My message now goes from mouth to mouth. I’m not even networking on purpose. I notice that when I talk to someone a light starts to shine and I think: Hey wait a minute – and then it doesn’t even have to be about the subject I want to go to. It’s more important that I notice that we have a connection. As soon as I notice that, we can move on to the next step: What can we do with each other? What should we do with each other at all? So it’s organic.

Seeing and being seen is an important theme in your videos. Can you tell us more about it?

Seeing and being seen is my common thread. That has to do with the fact that when I see you or bother to see you, you feel that, and then you set yourself up differently. You need to know who you are and what your abilities are.

I apply these insights especially to the highly talented. Not because I want to turn people with higher IQ into a separate target group or because I think they are more important, but because these people are pre-eminently people who don’t fit into the mold on which you are standardized in the system anyway. But still, we will be judged on them. So if you don’t know who you are and what you’re capable of, the system is counting on you for something they don’t know.

Suppose: most highly talented people learn top-down, but at school, everything is explained bottom-up. If you don’t know that you are a top-down thinker, then you really feel so stupid. Then your whole life, you go thinking you’re stupid and you can’t do anything. Because what you can do, you are not standardized and not tested for.

“When you’re above the norm, people often have an opinion about you.”

When you’re above the norm, people often have an opinion about you. People find that difficult, or they feel threatened. I don’t feel that great at all because I have a high IQ. But I also don’t want to undermine myself because I have a high IQ. But you will be blamed for it. You know what I mean?

More curiosity around this theme would be great. If people would be sincerely curious, would ask themselves: why are you doing it like that? Without them having any judgment. Only then you become aware of each other. So I need to know about myself and I need to know about you. But you also need to know about me. Even if you don’t understand a thing about me, the fact that you know: she switches or she thinks differently and that’s fine, that’s enough.

How did you get to these insights?

I won [in 2012] the National IQ Test. Before that time I didn’t know at all that I was highly talented. I always tried to fit. But that only works to a certain point. Because you can’t give what you don’t have. I felt that, because then at a certain point I couldn’t go on. In elementary school, everything went well and I got good grades. Then I went to high school and got stuck. I got a lot of bad grades and had to work very hard.

“I felt very stupid that I didn’t understand things and the rest did.”

I didn’t understand what was going on there, so I never thought: Well I must be very intelligent. That wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. In fact, I felt very stupid that I didn’t understand things and the rest I did.

When I won the IQ test I thought: Oh, you see, I’m different. But then I also thought: What does this mean? How can I have such a high IQ and yet fail so horribly at high school? It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn or didn’t do anything. On the contrary, I was always looking for ways to get through it. Because my focus was my starting point and I was going to get there anyway.

I found out that being highly talented includes focus and strong metacognitive skills, but also being super sensitive, registering things quickly, adapting at a pace others can’t follow. Then it suddenly became more tangible and I understood that what I do is legitimate and that there are more people like me. That didn’t make it any easier by the way, because you’re still ‘the odd one out‘.

Had you gained certain insights before? Because you weren’t completely standard before that either. From the age of fourteen, you danced for shows on television, in the theatre and at product presentations.

When 999 people look one way and you look the other way, the reactions are: don’t be so complicated. Can’t you just join in? It would be much easier if you just….

Before I found out I was gifted, I thought: This can’t be true, something’s not right. I had a rock-solid confidence this couldn’t be it. I thought: There was once a madman who thought that he could learn to fly. Then people probably also thought: He’s out of his head, start acting normal!

The 14 insights of Dolores

I have listed the insights you share on your website, in interviews and videos on your YouTube channel and would like to discuss them with you. In an interview in the NRC (2013) and in your TEDx talk you say: “If you’re not seen you don’t know who you are”. Can you explain this?

Screenshot TEDx Amsterdam 2016

Insight #1: If you’re not seen you don’t know who you are.

I am who I am, but I’m not validated for who I am. They don’t say: hey Dolores, you’re good at that, or: think about that. They only say what’s not going well: You’re emotional. Why do you react so quickly to injustice? Can’t you put your finger down in class for a minute? Yes, we now all know that you know!

Afterward, those were all things I did to be seen. There were people who did see me, even though they had no idea what that meant. It’s so important that someone acknowledges your existence in a normative world.

Insight #2: You’re measured by the norm and you have to fit the template.

If you have dyslexia or ADHD, are highly or weakly talented, then you are a problem. You’re not an opportunity anymore. From the age of four, you live in a system that tells you: you are not good enough. You get a backpack and the intention of the backpack is that we can kick you back in the mold. It totally ignores the uniqueness of who you are. Nobody says: You do it differently, but that’s cool because then you can do something else.

Do you feel like people see you now?

I don’t really care anymore. This is the first time I’ve pronounced it that way. I don’t care anymore if other people see me, because I see myself. That’s why seeing yourself is so important.

Insight #3: When you see yourself you are not so dependent on the opinion of others.

You no longer form yourself towards others in order to be liked or to be able to go along with others.

Insight #4: Tell children that they are fine as they are.

Children and young people are still fully in their development. If they can already experience that they are fine as they are, then that will give them such a boost.

Seeing and being seen, it seems so obvious, but people don’t always see it and it’s hard to show it to them. How do you work on this consciousness?

In sparring sessions with teachers and with specialists from special schools for highly talented children. Sparring with specialists goes well, but there is a lot of resistance from teachers who are not aware of giftedness.

At one point I said: The thing is that you have an opinion about it. I don’t think anything of it at all, I’m the way I am and it’s called gifted or highly talented, but for me, it could have been called Curious George or Nosy Parker. A child can be as gifted as I don’t know what, but if you don’t help him to develop or discover that, he can’t do anything.

Insight #5: As long as one has prejudices about deviating from the norm and this is legitimate in this system, we have a problem.

That’s why I’m working so hard on it because I don’t think that’s the way.

Do you want to know more about prejudice in education? Look at this video from Dolores about “The norm” and deviating from the norm.

There are way too many kids at home with a burn-out. A burn-out! Then you’re nine or ten and you have a burn-out. Why? Because someone’s standing on your oxygen tube all the time. And they keep doing that even when they’re not aware of it.

Insight #6: Awareness means you have to be open to what the other person says.

As long as you find: It has to be this way because we’ve always done it this way, then we can’t talk.

I see curiosity as another way of looking at someone’s potential. Look at how someone is curious: it shows the willingness to develop.

That’s true, but there’s something else. There are people who only need a little nudge to understand your way of thinking. But there is a very large group of people with other peripheral issues. Teachers have their own ‘struggles’ and other interests than just the interests of the children. There are all sorts of issues that complicate the recognition of what children really need.

Insight #7: Before you arrive at curiosity, you must first acknowledge that you may not know.

If something is stuck, it’s very difficult to get it loose. That’s why I try to get it loose by telling stories and showing examples. It’s not a pointing finger: You’re doing it wrong. It’s a pointing finger to unconsciousness.

Insight #8: Through unconsciousness you can, without knowing it, demolish things.

The moment you know you’re demolishing things, it suddenly becomes very ‘in your face’.

Walking your own path and being yourself often comes back in your stories. In one of your interviews, you talk about taking freedom and getting permission. Giving someone permission to be themselves sounds very logical. But often (especially sensitive) people don’t experience this permission (anymore).  What do you think are good ways to give others clear permission to be themselves and follow their own path?

Insight #9: Say what you think.

When my son asks: What’s up? And I say: Nothing. And while it is clear to both of us that something is going on, I make him insecure. So some things I just say out loud. When I’m sad I say: Dear darling, I’m sad now and that has to come out, otherwise, I’m going to stuff it up and then I’ll explode at the slightest.

Insight #10: Living by example.

I had a conversation the other day with a professor; a man in his late 70s. I told my son. He replied: in his late 70s? Then he can retire, can’t he? I said: Yes, but he doesn’t want to. How cool is that? That man is so driven that he just keeps going.

You can say: You can do whatever you want. But if I then hypothetically stay in an unhappy marriage or I do things in a job where I think ‘oh god’, then I’m not credible.

Or if I say to him, “You can do anything. And then I stand on his brake on all sides, then I give mixed messages and what does he believe? If I keep walking my path with my ups and downs but also with my ‘victories’, then he’ll understand. When I say something else than I do, I lose him.

What can sensitive people do themselves to see and take that space?

You don’t do that all at once, it takes time. You’ve been building and reinforcing a wall for so long. So you also need time to tear down that wall. It doesn’t have to take that long, sometimes developments can go very quickly.

To give an example: What you think is about you, not me. If I make a joke, one person may laugh out loud and the other may think: This is really stupid. Who’s to blame? Is my joke stupid or funny? Your reaction is yours; it’s your responsibility.

Insight #11: When you interact with someone, there is always a piece of yourself and the other person in it.

It’s two-way traffic. I think people should become more aware of what they radiate to children. That’s a very tricky thing to do because very often you do so unconsciously.

Insight #12: Your feelings are radiated unconsciously, and the other person picks it up automatically.

So if you think a child shouldn’t be whining and just do what it is asked to do, then a child picks that up and starts responding to it. If that feeling is fed all day, then at the end of the day you have a super fucked up child.

That is the responsibility of the child, but also of the adult. You can’t blame a child alone. It’s always an interaction.

Insight #13: With your reaction, you can steer the thinking of the other person and yourself.

If I have someone opposite me who thinks something of me, I can decide to talk to him or think: If you don’t fuck off. then… Those are two different reactions, the first reaction can help disprove what the other thinks. Sometimes I don’t feel like it and sometimes I think: That’s quite interesting.

What I want to say is:

Insight #14: It’s two-way traffic: it’s not like just one has to adapt to the other.

In fact, what we do at school is tell a kid that you have to adapt, otherwise, you won’t participate. Then they leave school around the age of eighteen and then you hear: These kids these days, they’re so lazy, they have no initiative and they don’t do anything. Gee, then I think, weird, very weird, very surprising too.

Thinking in possibilities

Dolores writes on her website:

“I experience more often that being different from the norm is seen as an impossibility, as a hassle. What if that ‘impossibility’ is not an impossibility but a possibility you don’t see yet, because you don’t know that you can look at it differently? What if what you see or think you see means something else? What if not everything is black or white but there are 30 shades of grey in between? What if you can look at something or someone and that thing or person suddenly turns out to have possibilities, or much more? What if that ‘impossibility’ suddenly feels like a ‘possibility’?”

Being seen and heard can make the difference between feeling an impossibility or possibility. In education, we talk a lot about seeing students, but we experience difficulty in letting go of the control we have built into our whole system. It is precisely this control that ensures that there are templates and that we try to fit our children into these templates in a more or less loving way.

What or who gave you the courage to follow your own path? Or what’s stopping you from following your own path?
I’d like to hear from you in the comments below or via email: [email protected]