Mensa Mind – Have You Got One?

At a Mensa event, you could be rubbing shoulders with an archaeologist, a Hollywood screenwriter, or an international spy.

Mensa, the high IQ society, attracts such a diverse range of people from every walk of life, you can join and give up reading novels for excitement. You meet “the most amazing people with amazing experiences,” says Vicki Herd of Calgary. Vicki joined Mensa when she moved to Alberta from Australia. Having recently arrived in Canada, Vicki found in Mensa an instant and vibrant social group.

Believing that you “get out what you put in” to Mensa, Vicki has spent years volunteering for Mensa Canada in various capacities. She’s hosted local and national events, served as the Local Secretary of the Calgary group, and spent ten years as Proctor; where she supervised Mensa hopefuls as they wrote the qualifying test.

The test often proves the biggest hurdle for those wanting to join Mensa. Not because It’s particularly difficult (for those whose IQ is in the top 2%, that is.) Just getting people to show up is a real challenge. “People wimp out” after making an appointment to write the test. Sometimes, says Vicki, it takes two years for people to work up the nerve to finally show up and write the test.

Millie Norry was petrified when she took the Mensa qualifying test. “I ate fish every day for a week,” she said, hoping it would increase her brain power. Years later, Millie is enjoying her second term as president of Mensa Canada.

Decades ago, the Mensa qualifying test was more intimidating. Those seeking membership used to write two tests of 40 minutes each. Nowadays, Mensa administers a single test which takes only 20 minutes. The test is offered at locations across Canada and the $90 fee includes the current year’s membership dues for successful applicants. Anyone who has already taken a qualifying intelligence test can submit those results under Mensa Canada’s prior evidence rules, along with a $25 fee, and avoid the stress of a further test. While an IQ test is not the only, nor the best, measure of intelligence, it is the only basis of membership for Mensa.

According to Mensa International’s website, “there is no one prevailing characteristic of Mensa members, other than a high IQ.” Mensa members cover nearly every age range, education level, and occupation. The word Mensa itself, Latin for table, symbolizes Mensa’s belief that each member is equal: a member’s “race, colour, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational or social background” are irrelevant.

For many members, the acceptance they felt when they attended their first Mensa event was a relief. There is no “in” crowd in Mensa. A new member is never an outsider. Any ideas are acceptable topics for discussion, and no one will ever say “That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.”

What Mensans most value about their membership is that they feel welcomed. “Mensans are just friends you haven’t met yet,” says one Alberta member. People in the higher ranges of IQ sometimes struggle socially, yet they feel an instant bond with fellow Mensans. Other Mensans “get” what You’re saying, according to one Ontario member, “you don’t need to explain, or wait for them to catch up.”

Far from the widely-held perception that those with high IQs are arrogant know-it-alls, Mensans are often unsure about their intelligence. Many Mensans keep their membership a closely-guarded secret. One member, who took both her undergrad degree in psychology and her Master of Counselling Psychology at AU, says people sometimes have “unexpected reactions” to hearing about her membership in Mensa. Consequently, she is one of those members who is selective about who she reveals her Mensa-ness to.

“I think sometimes people expect Mensans to be super-geniuses,” says this AU alumna. That can give rise to unreasonable expectations, especially in the workplace. In reality, most Mensans are average people who often think a little differently. While approaching problems from a different angle can lead to creative solutions, it can also lead to over-analyzing and consequently, the simplest solution can be overlooked. Mensans are not infallible super-humans. “Ben Johnson is a superior runner,” says the AU alumna, “but nobody expects him to move that quickly every time he crosses the street.”

People with Mensa-qualifying IQs often feel just a little bit different. In elementary and high school, they notice that others don’t think quite like they do. They question the accepted methods and sometimes challenge their teachers. Frustrated with the slow pace of school and seemingly illogical teaching methods, they often drop out. In an education-oriented society, this sometimes leaves Mensans playing catch-up later in life, chasing those all-too-necessary credentials.

If this sounds like you, you may have a Mensa mind!

See next week’s article for details about a discounted Mensa test rate, and free money for students.