What Does It Mean To Be A Clever Person? (Explained)

For some of us, when we hear that someone is clever we take it as a half compliment, half slight. Others see it as an efficient and even admirable use of intelligence. Given that people use it in different ways depending on their perspective, what does it actually mean to be a clever person?

A clever person uses reason and logic to find innovative solutions to problems. Cleverness can be negative in people that use it take advantage of others or situations for selfish purposes. Being a clever person is positive when virtues are upheld and the good of others are a main consideration.

With all of this in mind, let’s look at the varied perspectives on cleverness, how the terms around it are used, and what we can do to become more clever in a good sense. This has implications for how we are as people ourselves and how we train our children to be healthy adults in the future. Let’s find out how to use cleverness to our advantage.

Is Cleverness A Bad Thing?

Being smart or intelligent, and we will discuss these more in depth later, don’t possess traits of good or evil themselves. Intelligence is simply a tool to be used and the intentions of the person is what brings about the desirable end. Yet, is this the same when speaking of a clever person? Is the intention already included in cleverness?

Cleverness in a person is neither good nor bad on its own. The virtuous intent or lack thereof is what gives it its final form. The intelligent planning or execution of an action can be used in a positive or negative way depending on the goal of the individual.

Some use the term to describe a person with the intention of tricking others or winning at something without a thought given to how rules are bent or broken. Though others simply mean it as a compliment noting how skillfully maneuvering was done within the acceptable boundaries of a situation.

Then there are those that hold cleverness to a higher standard. They intend to denote a practical use of intelligence that brings about a good that would not be commonly achievable by most others that attempt the same thing.

It is important to understand that many philosophers see cleverness and other forms of intelligence as not being confined to the brain, but an ability of the soul, mind, or spirit itself.

it is necessary to say that the intellect is a power of the soul

St. Thomas Aquainas, Summa TheologiaeFirst Part, Question 79

A cleaver person with the proper intent is simply using the faculties of the soul as they were intended. In this way cleverness is not a bad thing, but rather a foundational good pointing to what it means to be human.

If it is used properly that is.

What Is The Negative Meaning Of Clever?

There is definitely a darker use of the term clever when speaking about a person’s actions or character. Those with this usage in mind tend to include someone’s intent to misdirect or subvert the will of others to achieve an end. When someone uses clever in this way, can it point to a negative meaning for clever?

Clever can have a negative meaning when describing a person that intends to deceive others to see their own design come to fruition. The word takes on negative connotations because of the use the intellect to bring about a selfish outcome, and the aim of the person using the term.

Many think of a clever person in this way as pertaining to thieves, pirates, and others looking to take negatively take advantage of situations or people. A clever salesman for instance can be a persuasive speaker, but can also mean one that hides facts that could dissuade a buyer.

Is Clever A Positive Word?

Now that we have looked at a clever person in a negative light, what about the positive side of the term? There are some central aspects to cleverness that can be seen as goods. So, can clever be used as a positive word when speaking about a person?

Clever is a positive word to describe any person that is using their intellectual faculties in an ingenious manner to bring about a good, or at least not in a way that leads to an evil. To be positive, cleverness needs to have the right intentions and aimed at a good.

People will view this as a good character trait in a person that for instance uses the law to free an innocent man from prison in a way that others did not see.

It can even be seen in parents that use redirection and goal oriented discipline to curb the misbehaving tendencies of a ‘spirited’ child. It is easy to resort to yelling and threatening, but a clever parent will find what the child likes and devise ways to use them as goals and their withholding as incentives.

A clever person can be a complimentary designation if what it speaks to is their actions within the boundaries of good character.

Here are some other clever articles you will enjoy…

Why It Is Important To Be A Clever Person

If we are speaking of cleverness in the good sense, it can be an extremely beneficial quality to have in yourself or those in your group when trying to find a solution to a difficult problem or situation. So, let’s look at why it is important to be a clever person in many circumstances.

It is important to be a clever person in order to take full advantage of opportunities that are not readily apparent. Solutions to complex or stressful issues need innovative minds that can practically apply reason and intelligence. These situations are why it is important to be a clever person.

Now let’s look at two issues when someone is convinced that being clever is important.

How Do I Become The Right Kind Of Clever Person?

Seeing that there can be those that use cleverness for selfish purposes, how can one mold themselves in a way that makes cleverness uphold virtue rather than act as a deprivation of it? How can someone become the ‘right kind’ of clever?

Being a virtuously clever person takes forming the conscience to point to the good. This will regulate all actions a person displays and the use of all faculties and abilities. Being a virtuous user of cleverness is how it is constrained and barred from taking advantage of others.

The ‘good’ here is much simpler than many may think when reading philosophers and theologians describing it. It is simply thinking of what is best for the other rather than yourself. To be the right kind of clever, a person needs only to have their goal set on what is best for others around them, even if it means they may have to suffer for it.

Now we will look at how to develop this virtuous kind of cleverness.

How Do I Become More Clever?

Like any ability, being clever can be underdeveloped and improved upon. Though someone’s intelligence level sets hard limits depending on their individual nature, cleverness usually speaks to more of the way someone is able to utilize their intelligence. So, if this is the case, how do we become more clever?

Someone becomes more clever by employing reason, logic, and thoughtfulness to the development of solutions. Education in the use of reason and logic is necessary. Discipline in resisting the effects of emotion and taking the time to carefully think before acting is crucial.

Here are some easy to apply steps to becoming a more clever person that you can begin using today…

  • Resist pressure to make rash or rushed decisions or plans. Even one minute of rational thought over emotional response could make all the difference.
  • Keep in mind that when using reason and logic, agreeing to one premise, also means agreeing to many others that follow necessarily from it. Think of the implications that any statement or action brings.
  • Don’t rule out unrelated facts or circumstances that arise. Sometimes these can hold the key to reaching a goal if used properly.
  • Develop skills of rhetoric, persuasion, and oration. Convincing unsure or obstinate people could make a clever idea a reality, whereas not persuading them could make it useless.
  • Teach your kids and family to be more rational and reasonable. When surrounding ourselves with people using these traits, we get more practice with them and their use becomes more normalized in our lives.

How Do You Deal With A Clever Person?

Since there are two types of clever people, it stands to reason that there are different ways that we will and should react to them. This will also speak to why others react to us in the way that they do when we are being clever. So, how do you deal with a clever person?

It is important to use caution when dealing with a clever person that has selfish or bad intentions. If deception is detected, trust should be withheld. Dealing with a virtuous clever person is just the opposite. Clever people with the good of others in mind can be a great help and deserve trust.

Let’s look at each of these two polar opposites and briefly look at how to deal with them.

How To Deal With A Virtuous Clever Person

You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too.

Sam Rayburn

Many today have either forgotten how to follow or have never been taught. When we find those that are worthy of following our society tells us to try to be like them and try to take their place. Yet, is this what we should do with a clever person of good character? How should we deal with a good clever person?

Clever people are an asset to any group if they are of good character. We should follow their lead and learn from them to make ourselves better people. All people have things to teach us and clever people that value others and their needs are some of the best examples to follow.

It takes humbleness and honesty to admit someone has something of value to teach us. When we meet clever people with the proper intent, it is to our benefit that we follow their lead.

How To Deal With A Bad Clever Person

Now that we have dealt with clever people to follow, let’s turn our attention to those with less than admirable intentions. How should we act when confronted with someone that is intelligent and knows how to use it, but has selfish or bad goals in mind?

Dealing with clever people that have less than good intentions should be handled with avoidance or as little interaction as possible. When these are not an option, withholding personal information, setting strong limits on commitments, and keeping firm personal convictions are advisable.

I like to tell my kids and students as they get older, “Don’t think you are going to go to a used car lot and get a good deal. Their job is to get the best deal for themselves. They are in business because they are good at it.”

The reason I say this is that so many people, especially when they are younger, have too high an estimation of their own cleverness. Without knowing the tricks and maneuvers of a particular situation, they somehow believe simply because they are breathing that they are good at getting what they want and convincing others.

Dealing with clever people with bad motives usually means playing in a game in which they are very experienced. They are sure they have the upper hand. They wouldn’t spend the time to achieve that particular goal if they weren’t reasonably sure they could attain it.

How Do You Say Someone Is Clever?

Next let’s look at some of the terminology surrounding clever people to help us get a better picture of what it means to be a clever person. Here we will leave many of the intentions behind, and simply focus on what is normally meant by the terms.

How to say someone is clever using several different words.

  • She is a clever person.
  • That group is full of cunning people.
  • Experience makes some grandparents wise.
  • He is an intelligent person.
  • That is one smart individual.
  • He has a brilliant mind.
  • That guy is a sly fox.
  • What a crafty old dog.

As you can see, context makes many of these mean the same thing as clever. You can simply say someone is clever, but even then the context will give it a nuance. The same can be done with these other words in order to mean something similar to clever.

What Is A Very Clever Person Called?

If someone is continually coming up with innovative or ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions that get the job done, what do we call them? If someone is very clever, is there a name for it?

Generally, when someone is very clever, most will call that person brilliant. This has as much to do with how they apply their intelligence as it does with how much intelligence they possess. Very clever or brilliant people usually have a mix of experience and humility as well.

Not everyone will be able to attain this type of designation, but for those who can it can be used both for good and bad outcomes. Choosing the good makes a very clever person brilliant indeed.

What’s The Difference Between Clever And Cunning?

There are some words in the English language that mean the same thing and are synonyms on one hand, but are different in kind on the other. Clever and cunning can be two of these words. What is the difference between clever and cunning?

A cunning person speaks more to the act of coming up with plans and their implementation. When speaking of a person being clever, it is generally meant to describe their ability to translate intelligence into action. Though they are very similar, both words have nuanced uses.

Dictionary.com gives the definitions this way…

  • Cunning – skill employed in a shrewd or sly manner
  • Clever – mentally bright; having sharp or quick intelligence; able.

Here, these definitions highlight my point from above. Cunning centers on skills and planning, whereas cleverness focuses on intelligence and its manipulation.

What Is The Difference Between Clever And Wise?

If cunning denotes more of an action and clever centers more on intelligence, is there a word that means even more intelligent than clever? What is the difference between a wise person and a clever person?

Wise when used to refer to people has the implication of intelligence plus experience that leads to right and moral actions. Clever is used to highlight the innovative or creative way solutions are achieved using the intellect. Both deal with intelligence, but in different ways.

It is a good thing to teach our kids and learn for ourselves to be both clever and wise. Wisdom is notorious for its high value of experience and acknowledgement of higher truths. Cleverness is a practical application of wisdom and intelligence.

Setting both of them combined with good character as goals for your children could turn them into world changers.

What Does “You Clever Girl” Mean?

Lastly, let’s look at how the word clever gained great popularity with its use in the 1993 film Jurassic Park. It is also a good indication on how it can also have blended meanings with feet firmly in both camps, the good and the evil.

“Clever girl” is a phrase spoken by the character Muldoon when he was outsmarted by one of the raptors in Universal Pictures’ 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park. Muldoon admits with this one phrase that he was beaten by the dinosaurs with a mix of admiration and regret.

Clever here has both the acknowledgement of intelligent application and an evil slyness. The raptor, with the help of her pack had tricked him, and though he admired her ingenuity, her murderous intent still remained.

Many times clever carries a sense of the good and the bad in tension with one another.

The Clever Person Takeaway…

Using clever to describe a person or an action can mean good and bad things. The intention of the person and the intention of the one labeling them will have to be taken into account.

A good clever person is someone to be admired and followed. A clever person with bad intentions or selfish motives should be avoided.

Teaching our children to know the difference can mean success or failure in some situations as they become the adults we want them to be.

If you would like you or your kids to be more clever, here are some articles that can help…

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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