In a Room of High IQs, Little in Common Besides Smarts
He is not what you’d expect from a member of Mensa, the high IQ society. Broad chested, dark and tall at 6 feet 6 inches, Leon Feingold, 39, looks like the hunk werewolf in “True Blood.”
As a board member and the hospitality chair of the Greater New York Mensa, Feingold was in charge of welcoming the 50 or so members that made it to the Valentine’s Day Social, on the 9th floor of an NYU building in Greenwich Village.
“My mother forced me to join,” said Feingold, donning his best Brooklyn accent to imitate her. “Don’t you want to meet a smart girl?”
Nerd culture seems to be at the zenith of chic, but American Mensa has yet to capitalize on the increased appreciation. The only tie between its members is intelligence, so diversity in ages, personalities, goals and careers is a mixed blessing. The wide pool of potential Mensans makes it ideal for recruiting new members, but the generational gap between them makes it hard for chapters to retain existing ones.
Natalie Krauser has been in Mensa since she was 5 and has served on the board of the New York chapter for more than 10 years.
“Mensa has a lot very of odd, quirky, and unique people, but there are also some very nice, normal unassuming people, and everything in between,” Krauser said in a phone interview. “You can literally talk to a rocket scientist and then also talk to a model.”
But that mix alone does not make for an ideal pool for matchmaking or for collaborating on lofty schemes to save the world.
The world’s largest organization for people with high intelligence, the international nonprofit, founded in Britain, has administered intelligence testing since 1946, granting membership to those scoring in the top 2 percent of the population. It has also encouraged research into the nature of human intelligence. But mostly it functions as a social group.
“We host parties, mixers, speaker events,” Krauser said. ”We try to give our membership different thoughts, different ideas, and access to different types of people.”
The 57,000 members nationwide represent just a small percentage of the estimated 6 million Americans (2 percent of 300 million) who may qualify. Membership, according to several board members, has not changed much in the last decade.
Feingold, who owns a realty company, left Mensa shortly after joining, but returned 10 years ago once he moved to Manhattan. “There are a lot of younger, cooler people in Mensa,” he said. “I would love to get a lot more.”
Anton Spivack, 27, has been a member since 2009. Smaller and less confident in conversation than Feingold, Spivack is a playwright who is interested in the idea of the outsider. “People who are alienated from the rest of the world,” he said.
At the social he led a fivesome in several rounds of “Crack the Case,” a table game where players are read scenarios involving crimes and must figure out how to solve the mystery. Pleased with how much fun they had, the group discussed starting a special interest group around the game.
“It’s hard to relate to people,” he said. “It’s easier to get along with people in Mensa.”
Spivack wishes the organization had an overarching goal. “We should be using our high IQs to help other people,” he said.
Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor who developed the idea that people have multiple intelligences, agrees with Spivack. He doesn’t see the point of people gathering together based on how they scored on an intelligence test. “I don’t actually know the IQs of most people with whom I associate, and I don’t much care,” he wrote in an email. “(Indeed, unless a person belongs to Mensa and announces the fact, few would know that person’s IQ.) I want to be with individuals who are well informed, who are involved with the arts, who are gracious and respectful, and who try to do the right thing, whether at work, at home, or in the community.”
Mensans are helping people, but most of their work is focused outside the organization.
One example is Elizabeth Claire, honored this month with an award from the Mensa Educational and Research Foundation for her work as the publisher of a newspaper for English-language learners called Easy English News.
Claire joined Mensa in 1962, after noticing a tiny slip of paper advertisement in a phone booth she was occupying near City College. She recalls more than 20 men at her first meeting but only 3 women.
Later, she started her own interest group, called “Writers Anonymous.” She fell in love with one of her writer friends in Mensa in 1980. After a romance, she said, she wasn’t ready to get married and he moved on.
“Twenty-five years later he looked me up, he found my website and contacted me,” she said. A former New York schoolteacher and New Jersey resident, Claire moved to Virginia soon after to be with him.
Back on the 9th floor in Greenwich Village, Jay Albrecht, 86, is steady on his feet in conversation. He confessed to several Mensa romances in his 51 years as a member, and is well known among the ladies as a ballroom dancer. “They are very receptive to my poetry,” he said.
The oldest, and longest serving member in New York (and the founding father of Mensa in Sweden,) he is introduced to the room and invited to share a poem.
Albrecht holds a copy of his recently published book, “Angelic Asides,” but recites from memory. A Yale graduate, he worked as a mechanical engineer, copywriter and psychologist before retiring to the life of an artist 20 years ago.
A few members groaned in the audience as Albrecht launched into his third poem, but most were on his side.
His eyes began to water as he recited the last lines.
“Reaching out in love, she clasps my hand, entranced. My spirit prances, gladdened. … I cannot keep from dancing.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgFebruary 16, 2013