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An Interview with Monika Orski (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/08/22


Monika Orski is the Ordförande/Chairwoman, Mensa Sverige/Mensa Sweden. She discusses: family background; development in early life; learning of giftedness; nurturance of giftedness; investment in the gifted and talented; families and friends and guidance for the gifted, and a myth about gifted peoples’ social skills; precision in the definition of Western Europe and the provisions for gifted peoples in it; geniuses in the more precisely defined geography of “Western Europe”; high-IQ as never being a detriment; and feeling connection with one’s cultural heritage. 

Keywords: Chairwoman, Mensa Sverige, Mensa Sweden, Monika Orski, Ordförande.

An Interview with Monika Orski: Ordförande/Chairman, Mensa Sverige/Mensa Sweden (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In terms of geography, culture, language, and religion/irreligion, what is personal family background?

Monika Orski: I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. My parents had immigrated from Poland just over a year before my birth, the effect of an antisemitic campaign that resulted in many Polish Jews emigrating, among them a few thousand to Sweden. Thus, I’m first generation Swedish. Or, in the parlance of official language as well as large part of the public view, second-generation immigrant.

The Jewish inheritance in my family is a matter of culture and ethnicity, not a religious one. I was not brought up to care about any religion at all. Which, by the way, fits well into the general, relatively secular Swedish culture.

As for language, my native Swedish has always been supplemented with the Polish that remained the everyday language for family life in my childhood, and that my parents still use when we talk. Then, I was taught English and French in school. I consider this early access to multiple languages a real treasure.

2. Jacobsen: How did these multiple facets of family background feed into early life for you?

Orski: It’s all part of me, of course. Being part of a minority is a very basic experience, and in some ways defining. I never had a choice not to be visibly ”different”, and I’m sure it has shaped a certain outlook. I am, of course, as much of a consensus seeker as anyoneSwedish, but I am not afraid to stand out when needed.

Also, I am aware that family background was an important influence when I chose my field of work. I studied literature in parallel with computer engineering, but it was always clear that the serious, long-term part was to become an engineer. It had to be something that wasn’t language dependent, something that could be used more or less anywhere in the world. An element of “just in case” was always part of the equation.

Not that I ever regretted being a software engineer. Today, I have been a freelancing consultant for a long time, mostly in the area of solution architecture, and also do other things on the side. I am a writer with books published, and I offer lectures on leadership, mostly based on my experience within Mensa.

3. Jacobsen: When did giftedness become a fact of life for you, explicitly? Of course, you lived and live with it. The key, when was the high general intelligence formally measured, acknowledged, and integrated into personal identity and loved ones’ perception of you?

Orski: It was formally measured when I took a Mensa admission test at age 21. But there was no change in either personal identity or loved ones’ perception caused by this formal measure. By then, I was a student, and had been considered – and considered myself – intelligent since childhood. For better or worse.

4. Jacobsen: Was your giftedness nurtured in early life into adolescence? 

Orski: Yes and no.

I was lucky to grow up in a family where academic success was encouraged, or even expected. I guess we fit the stereotype of a Jewish family, at least in that way. Also, there were always books around, and while my parents often tried to make me spend more time outdoors, they were never opposed to my copious reading as such.

School was another matter. I was not a top-grade student, but I did well enough, while I was horribly bored by school work and had no chance to learn how to actually work to gain knowledge. Being different didn’t help the social interaction either. For quite a long time, a day without physical violence would count as a good day, and there were not that many good school days.

In class, I was often used as an unpaid teaching assistant, starting somewhere around the age 9 or 10. Then, I was a child, and only saw that this singled me out even more, and certainly didn’t help. But as an adult, I am most appalled by what those teachers did to my classmates. Imagine you are eleven and have some trouble following the class in math – and then you are supposed to be taught by a frustrated ten-year-old. Doesn’t that sound like a failsafe way to turn temporary difficulties into permanent failures? Although with time, I actually learned some pedagogical skills, mostly the hard way by trial and error.

5. Jacobsen: Why should governments and communities invest in the gifted, identification and education?

Orski: First and foremost, because every child should be allowed to explore their potential, and feel validated in doing so. Of course, it is more important to teach everyone the basic skills: read and write etc. However, if that is the only level you measure your education system by, you have already given up.

There is the individual point of view. People are not happy when they are kept back, and while adults always have at least some opportunities to counteract this themselves, children usually do not. Even more so when they know they are somehow different from those around them, and are left with only the negative consequences. Also, if you don’t learn how to work to learn things, you will probably experience a sudden change at some point, when you no longer can absorb everything without effort. If that happens before you are old enough to understand it, it will probably cause a traumatic decline of self-esteem.

There is also the society point of view. Many of the gifted will end up in regular, but qualified careers, and thus benefit society as a whole. But there is more to it. If allowed a broad education, some of those gifted children will shape future fields we do not even have names for today, and provide huge contributions. Some, of course, will choose other paths, not visibly using their intelligence in career or public life, but the community will benefit in those cases too. Overall, the number of gifted trouble makers, in schools as well as far beyond, will be less if everyone gets the chance to explore their potential. We cannot know in advance who will end up where, but we do know that either way society as a whole will benefit from investing in their education.

6. Jacobsen: How can families and friends help prevent gifted kids from a) acting arrogant and b) becoming social car crashes (with a) and b) being related, of course)?

Orski: There is a prevailing myth that intelligent people have poor social skills. In fact, research shows the contrary. There is a positive correlation between intelligence and social skills.

That said, all children have some tendencies to see themselves as the center of the world, and act accordingly. This is perfectly natural. It is true that in gifted children, an arrogance rooted in their giftedness would be a common symptom of this tendency. Like all children, they need to be taught to interact with others, and called on behavior that is not acceptable. That would include to let them know that kindness is usually more important than specific skills, as well as more important than an ability to learn quickly.

Another aspect is that all children need to have peers they will consider equals. When other gifted children are not a natural part of a child’s environment, the most valuable assistance family and friends can provide is to help them find them. This can be done via aMensa youth program, or a chess club (if they like chess), or a choir (if they like singing) or online gaming (if they like games), or some other context that brings people of similar interests and gifts together. Of course, I am personally very much in favor of the Mensapath.

7. Jacobsen: How well-established and funded is the acceptance and nurturance of the gifted and talented through the formal mechanisms of the countries in Western Europe? 

Orski: Western Europe is a very diverse area, and it’s hard to discuss it as a whole. In short, every country has it’s own educational system. Now, I’m not sure how many European countries should be included when using a term like “Western Europe”, but to provide some understanding of the diversity, remember the European Union currently has 28 members, and that not all European countries are part of the EU.

However, among the things we do have in common one comes to mind when discussing education. Tuition is financed by tax money in most European countries, including university tuition. The access to university education is subject to many things, and will again vary between countries, but no potential student needs to worry about whether their finances, or those of their parents, will allow them to pay for their education.

To narrow down to an area I do know, for a few years Sweden has a law stating that in elementary and secondary school, every pupil should be allowed to learn and develop to their potential. In practice, this is far from being the case at every school, but at least there is a general framework that is supposed to help nurture all children, including gifted children.

Among the things we are most proud of within Mensa Sweden, is the Gifted Children Program (GCP). Our GCP-volunteers offer schools a free 2-hour education on giftedness for their staff. Thus, we help not only gifted children with parents who recognize their talents and seek ways to nurture them, but also children we never meet, as their teachers are taught how to recognize them. This year, between them our 40+ volunteers give 2-3 such lectures a week.

8. Jacobsen: Western Europe produced a number of great geniuses. Who comes to mind for you? What periods of time represent the largest flowering of intellectual progress in this region of the world?

Orski: Again, I would like to start with the proviso that Western Europe as a concept is diverse and without clear delimitation.

Among those who come to mind for me are scientists Isaac Newton, Carl Linnaeus, Marie Curie and Albert Einstein; philosophers Spinoza, Voltaire, Hegel and de Beauvoir; writers Cervantes, Dante, Shakespeare, de la Fayette, Goethe, Austen, Heine, Lagerlöf, Strindberg, Ibsen … I could go on at length regarding writers.

Intellectual progress spreads over the long history of Europe. Not being particularly well versed in the history of ideas, I will however venture the guess that the age of enlightenment (17th – 18th century) represents a flowering with effects also seen in the 19th century, and that the Romantic era (late 18th – 19th century) represent a surge in arts and literature that is still relevant to these areas today.

9. Jacobsen: How can a high-IQ be a detriment in life?

Orski: High-IQ itself is never a detriment. On the contrary, high-IQ makes many things in life easier, and there is research indicating a positive correlation between intelligence and many desirable things, such as longevity and health.

However, high-IQ can have detrimental side effects. Being and feeling different always has its downsides, especially while you are very young. Even a child who is told ”you’re really gifted and that makes you different in all sorts of good ways” will only hear ”you’re different”. Those who do not know about their intelligence often feel like aliens, not being able to understand why they don’t think the way most people around them do, and they often draw the conclusion there is something wrong with them.

This is part of why the acknowledgment of high general intelligence can make a fantastic difference in an individual’s life. Suddenly they get the tools needed to understand why they feel the way they do. Even more important, they gain an understanding that helps them look for peers they can feel equal to, sometimes after half a life of feeling inferior because they perceive themselves as different.

10. Jacobsen: How can ethnic heritage provide a bulwark for confidence in life? Something of a pride or happiness in heritage and culture, and tradition, but not in the accident of birth with ethnic grouping.

Orski: I agree, to feel pride in the accident of birth with ethnic grouping would be like pride in the color of your eyes – basically meaningless and in my view inconceivable.

While I can see a point in discussing pride in heritage, I am rather reluctant to use the word pride in this context. A feeling of connection and history is a better description. The heritage of culture will always be part of every one of us, and it’s usually good to feel a connection and continuity within it. Also, such a connection can foster feelings of responsibility, and a will to do good in and for the world around us.


  1. Mensa International. (2018). Mensa Sweden. Retrieved from
  2. Mensa Sverige. (2018). Mensa Sverige. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Ordförande/Chairman, Mensa Sverige/Mensa Sweden.

[2] Individual Publication Date: August 22, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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