The waste of talents is very different from that of materials. While materials must exist in abundance for people to waste, talents are not easily visible in a person, especially in a child. It is very hard to tell how much and what kinds of talents exist in an individual. So you don’t even know how much you are wasting.
Talents must be encouraged in order to be discovered. After having been discovered, talents must be developed in order to realize their effects on society. Without encouragement, talents remain latent in the individual, waiting to blossom or to waste. Different societies have different ways to encourage or discourage talents. This is deeply rooted in their cultures, and also in their political and educational systems.
In many societies, talents are seldom encouraged because they stand out or challenge the status quo. In communist countries or less open societies, talents are even suppressed for fear of threatening the authorities. The discouragement or suppression is a waste of talents that carries great consequences. It robs the society of the capacity to solve problems and make progress. It also denies the opportunity for the society to attract talents from elsewhere.
On the other hand, many societies have cultures that encourage and develop talents. This is demonstrated in their technological progress, artistic sophistication and liberal thinking. It is very easy to tell which countries are able to attract talents. All you need is to ask the young generation where do they want to live and work. Their answers will tell you where the brain drain is flowing.
What is talent? Broadly defined, talent is the ability of an individual to do bold and different things that challenge the status quo but benefit the society. Thus the exhibition of talents requires some courage and conviction. Accordingly, it is easy to define what talent is not: Yes-men are no talents; the same applies to authoritarians, paper pushers, and those who follow the rules or doctrines blindly.
Being hard to define, personal talent is readily ignored even by the individual involved. If you think that you have no talents, you don’t even bother to discover and develop them, wasting a latent asset that is part of you. Therefore, besides special skills, talent is also considered a positive and open mindset that is being cultivated within an individual.
You will agree that every person has some talents lying within. If you want to discover them, you need first to question existing rules and conventions. You need to ask questions and start to think critically about what is going on. This is how talents should be encouraged, discovered and developed, starting from the individual. The development of talents depends on the cultural forces that shape the individual, a lot more than any other factors.
In summary, it all boils down to just one sentence: We have a choice to be as smart or as stupid as we want.