Being Smart, Priority #69

Sometimes I try to avoid coming off as a smart or intelligent person. For example, I am in a top-ranked Psychology PhD program, but I detest talking about my research or my academics with my closest friends. A few months ago, I realized that I had published some articles in top Psychology peer-reviewed journals like Psychology of Addictive Behaviors and Appetite and felt gross about it, to the point where I posted a dramatic Facebook status asking if researchers can indeed have hearts. When one of my friends entering a Psychology PhD program in the fall praised me on the phone the other day for being super smart, I felt a sliver of my soul shrivel up and ascend into the afterlife, aka, a land with unlimited Jeni’s ice cream and books and upbeat pop music.

After reflecting on it, I realize I dislike associating myself with intelligence because of all the emotionally undeveloped and/or cruel smart people I know. For example, many people consider my father a genius, yet he failed to protect me from my mother and still lacks much empathy or interpersonal insight. In my time in academia, I have met so many people who publish articles in top-ranked journals – even articles about social justice-related topics – yet treat their students with little compassion or even outright meanness. Because of encountering these people, I created a pretty inflexible binary in my mind, with intelligence on one side and emotional intelligence on the other.

Throughout my life I have always tried to catapult myself into the realm of emotional intelligence. Perhaps as a way to revolt against the stereotype of Asian Americans being math and science nerds, as early as high school I read books about therapy and mental health and interpersonal relationships lol at my emotional af review of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets the Universe from high school that has over 2000 likes on Goodreads now. Though I cared about getting good grades so I could go to college and escape my abusive family, I spent way more time analyzing the dynamics of fictional characters’ relationships (e.g., Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor from Queer as Folk, though I know now their relationship is toxic af) than I devoted to pursuing admission to prestigious schools like Harvard, Yale, or whatever. I remember rolling my eyes at all the Asian students at my high school who cared about grades, because at the time I had little knowledge about white supremacy and assimilationism and meritocracy.

Now, though, I am forced to sit with how I do spend a decent amount of my time conducting research. Though I will always want to provide therapy at least part-time, I am aiming for an academic position after I finish my degree. So how can I cope with how a substantial portion of my life will be devoted to matters of the mind, with how I have in fact been in school for almost all of my life and will continue to be?

being smart priorities list

Earlier today I brainstormed my life priorities and came up with this list. I didn’t include eating Jeni’s ice cream, roasting mediocre and unsatisfying men like Connell from Sally Rooney’s Normal People, or fanboying the color pink, but they’re all there in spirit.

After posting my Facebook status, some people shared that intelligence and emotional intelligence can co-exist, which I am starting to see as true. I do know a few mentors who are both smart and sensitive and warm. While I think we live in a society that often glorifies rationality and intelligence over sensitivity and emotion, I am also beginning to believe that the two can co-exist, that I can make them co-exist within myself. I’m accepting too that I really just don’t care as much about being intelligent as I do about emotions or justice, even though I see how we can use intellectually-driven tools like science to inform and develop a more just world as well.

Perhaps the root of my fear of intelligence is that I am afraid that if I develop my intelligence, I will somehow lose my emotional intelligence. But I’m doing my best to remind myself that in most cases binaries are harmful. I can be smart and interpersonally intelligent, assertive as heck and gentle as a flower, attracted to men and completely happy without a man in my life. Even if my publications and awards may be what secure me tenure several years from now, I can still value warmth and sensitivity at the same time and just as much. I can still be me: emotional and soft, quirky and as weird as I want.

How do you feel about intelligence, emotional intelligence, and other characteristics? I recognize that privilege, socioeconomic status, and other things are related to these traits too and they’re by no means inherent or unaffected by societal structures. Or general reactions to this post? I turn 25 on the 25th so my next post will most likely be then, unless something really inspires me before then. Yay words on a random WordPress blog, yay!


Filed under Personal

18 responses to “Being Smart, Priority #69

  1. ramenlol

    Wow, you mentioned similar conflicting identities I have felt in academia. I just recently defended my dissertation last month. My professor was giving me feedback on my defense presentation and she noted that I sounded too casual and informal. She said that earning a “doctorate,” I need to speak with poise and sophistication – and in my head I was thinking, “that’s not me.” This is largely because I identify with people who are down-to-earth and that is how I mostly see myself. I normally don’t use “sophisticated” vocabulary in conversation.

    But then again, I do see where my professor is coming from. As an academic, you have this responsibility to convey yourself intelligently because your audience is relying on you for expert advice. I think of Dr. Anthony Fauci who does a fantastic job presenting himself in an expert way, and not sounding like a bigot at all. He is very grounded with his words which I aspire to be. His words are curated to reassure and inform the public of reliable information.

    I still remember a conversation I had with my friend who dropped out of grad school (she was working with a toxic professor). She learned that academia is a weird microcosm of intellects that have poor interpersonal skills. In the STEM field, where most of us work in an isolated environment in the lab, this space really stunts our interpersonal skill development and does not allow us to grow around others. Not going to lie, I also have my own awkward moments of weird interpersonal interactions. I am trying not to be so hard on myself when I make those weird conversational blunders – it is something I am trying to actively learn and grow from 😀

    • There is a movement for plane English use, to encourage academics from their ivory tower and engage the public. The use of sophisticated, ‘meta language’, used within your discipline is more effective as a communication tool than plain English because you can convey abstract concepts to those who already have contemplated such concepts with a single word. However, such sophisticated words are of no meaning, erect barriers, and sound pretentious, to those not in academia.

      In short, both you and your professor are right. It is simply a matter of context which kind of language you use.

      Make sense?

      • ramenlol

        Hi Nick, thanks for your response! 🙂 Yes I definitely agree, context is very important when it comes to knowing what kind of language is appropriate. Normally, I find myself using plane English (or lay terms) with my undergraduate students or even with my friends who ask about my research. But when I am in a committee meeting with professors or doing a public talk in my department, I find myself pulling out the higher-level vocabulary for that specific audience. I’m learning to embrace that latter form of speaking, but with keen awareness to stay grounded for those not familiar with the language in my field.

        • Thank you both for this fruitful and dare I say it, intelligent conversation on this blog post! ramenlol your original comment totally resonates with me, I just proposed my dissertation last month (congrats to you on defending!) and during the meeting there were moments when I was like “um… why am I even saying this in this way” or “okay, this seems more like a point to be made because it’s ‘academic’ and ‘intelligent’ sounding rather than being helpful.” But, it’s helpful as you’ve written – and thanks Nick for adding onto this – about how sometimes esoteric terms actually do like, have a purpose, and aren’t just to provide an appearance of intelligence or elitism. I guess both can be true, the necessity of advanced language and terminology to convey and understand certain concepts, as well as how that advanced language and terminology can be used to obfuscate clarity and presentation.

          ramenlol, also thank you for raising your conversation with your friend who dropped out of grad school (hope she’s doing okay now!) What you write is so interesting because I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes about academics being socially inept, and at the same time from your perspective and from others I know there isn’t a lot of attention paid to developing emotional and interpersonal intelligence. I don’t think I mind awkwardness or perceive awkwardness as a bad thing as much as I dislike the more abusive or toxic behaviors that occur in academia due to unchecked power. I’m glad you’re trying not to be too hard on yourself – the self-awareness in your comment and your commitment to growth are both iconic. (:

  2. Thank u for blessing us with this post. Also screaming at -1220: Date a man

    • Um thank U for blessing me with your iconic best friendship ❤ Also lolol I appreciate you appreciating that, very unsurprising yet iconic of me I know

  3. When I was a young man I used to hide the fact I attended uni because some people from my local area (working class – council estates), used to snub me. Why? Similarly, those from public school (like Eaton and other private schools) used to think me unintelligent because of my accent (I’m from the Black Country – UK), and emotionally bully me.

    The problem with society, schools especially, is that we value academic intelligence over other kinds of intelligence. In the streaming of students into different bands, this creates a pecking order, with power dynamics that interact with egos already saturated with mass media madness. As growing individuals, we try to find our place. When we have not had a warm, loving environment to be nurtured in, we lose our sense of self, and try to find our self identity reflected in others. The pecking order, shaped by familial, societal and cultural expectations shapes our perception of the world, and therefore our feelings about others and self.

    Feeling ashamed about being intelligent may lead to isolation and depression. Feeling prideful and superior naturally leads to looking down on others. Again, a form of isolation. So, how does an intelligent person, or one bludgeoned through school as being inferior, cope with feelings dominating their ego? Ego dissolution, perhaps? Developing feelings of compassion for other living beings? Realising that the mind and emotions are interrelated, and develop both emotional intelligence and logical intelligence, together? Does the logical mind, guiding the heart, and the heart, guiding the logical mind, form a symbiosis, allowing the development of wisdom?

    Just a few thoughts . . .

    • Aw thank you so much for this thoughtful comment Nick! Upon reading your post I feel like there isn’t any one simple answer to the various deep questions you raise here. One thing that stands out to me may be the association between intelligence and class, as well as how intelligence and educational attainment may be correlated but also attenuated by socioeconomic status/class, which is an interesting thing to think about, like how can we make educational attainment more accessible to everyone.

      Also, though, I really resonate with your point about intelligence itself perhaps being over-valued in comparison with other forms of intelligence. In my mind, I perceive intelligence as morally neutral as it can be used for “bad” pretty easily. And while I suppose that is true of many things, I do think emotional intelligence could be emphasized more in society, like how I know a few schools in the US are teaching more about mindfulness as well as interpersonal effectiveness. Hope you’re doing as well as possible during this uncertain time!

  4. Well I’m really bloody intelligent and I am down to earth and sensible and I have spatial awareness and I don’t go round in a cloud of absent minded cleverness and I strive to be a nice and kind person. And a lot of the academics I know and work with are decent people. When they’re not, they’re really not, but most are. Embrace your intelligence, please! Imagine not having it!

    And happy birthday in advance. Wow!

    • Liz, you are very intelligent and down to earth and kind all at once, you are a great reminder that it is possible to be all of those things at once! Thank you for your confidence in yourself and how you can inhabit multitudes, it’s a nice model for me to have. Thank you for your early birthday wish too!

  5. Happy early birthday!!

    Living for your list of things that are important to you (especially -1220: Date a man; I STAN). I definitely empathize with your thoughts growing up that emotional intelligence takes precedence over perceived intelligence; it made me reflect on my thoughts growing up (also empathize with you not acting like a “typical Asian” and worrying about getting into top schools, but that not detracting from your intelligence) about what I thought I’d do in the future. While I’m deeply introverted, I’ve always prided myself that when I do talk to someone, I try to do so in an earnest and meaningful way – what’s important to you? What do you find interesting about the world? Why do you do the things you do? How do you want to impact others? While these are still important questions, at the time they weren’t always received well and were #toodeep for many of my more casual friends. But my ability to talk to people in this way (I think) was how I started learning about emotional intelligence; to be able to talk to and cooperate with others, finding compromises and common ground… those were things that I held as important (and thought I would spend my future doing this as a diplomat) But as I’ve gotten older and have learned more about mental health/dissected my own mental health, I wonder if those values stemmed from my upbringing, where I was forced into the role of diplomat, into compromise, for fear of punishment or harm… a common mantra to myself was that I never wanted anyone else to feel as unheard or hurt as I did, and I think that affected how I saw and treated the world. I know you had mentioned your own PTSD and upbringing, and wonder how that has affected your personal values!

    I do think that there’s a way to be emotionally intelligent and intelligent! I think you’re embracing and doing that right now. The best professors I’ve had have been incredibly smart, but also aware of how they can affect their students in non-tangible or non-academic ways. My kindest professors helped me work through my mental health, whether I had disclosed my struggles to them or not. One of my professors when I was abroad noticed how I was almost always alone (because of bullies, boo) and recommended that I read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” over a quiet lunch together. Basically, I have no doubt that your emotional intelligence adds to your academic intelligence, and vice versa. You are and will continue to be iconic.

    • Yesssss omg I love all those questions Cat! Sorry they were #toodeep for most people at that time in your life though I’m glad we can interrogate those questions via our e-friendship now. (: I suspect we would’ve been good friends back then, lol. I think that’s so interesting that you bring up the role of trauma in formulating our values, which is something I actually wrote about in my most recent post. I totally hear you about not wanting to hurt people like you’ve been hurt and that was a similar motivation to me. I guess I guess that it’s complicated because I also grew up with an older brother who’s very much the opposite of me – I wouldn’t say he’s abusive but when we were younger he was much more aggressive, lashed out at people, etc. Having him as a comparison group showed me that I think it’s more than just having grown up in a certain type of environment, because my brother and I grew up in an awful household and we came out of it differently.

      I’m glad you had some iconic professors and your endorsement of my iconic-ness makes me feel happy. You are iconic too! I will aspire to continually grow to embody the energy of the professors you’ve mentioned, the ones who are sensitive and caring and present.

      • I totally emphasize with your relationship with your brother, though mine is flipped! I have a younger brother (by seven years) and even though we grew up somewhat similarly (my family’s life on the East Coast was much different than how I grew up for seven years in California), we’ve definitely always approached things differently. He sounds a lot more like your older brother where he’s more aggressive/emotionally outspoken/etc. As we’ve gotten older, I think we’ve been trying to talk to each other on the same level a bit more, but we still tiptoe around how to really talk to each other (where I try to be open and empathetic, especially since I suspect that he struggles with mental health like I do, but he usually tries to cut those conversations off by saying that he’s okay and that I don’t need to worry about it). The idea of what you take out of your upbringing is definitely something that’s been on my mind a lot, especially after I started therapy and embracing that I could be different from where I came.

  6. That’s interesting – I never thought of writing down my priorities and values. I’m sure your grandmother must have saw #8 and chuckled modestly. She might have even added that you’ve grown so much in such a short time. There’s still a lot of life left to live for you and you’ve already learned so much. Wishing you an early Happy Birthday. Take care Thomas. 🙂

    • Awww thanks Matt, I hope my grandmother knows how much I love and miss her! I hope she smiled or chuckled. 🙂 Thank you for affirming my growth, it means so much coming from someone who’s blessed my blog with his presence for so long. Also, I saw that you switched up the layout of your blog – would be curious what motivated that and I hope playing around with the layout or switching it up has felt positive for you.

  7. x

    I think this is very interesting topic to think about. I can totally relate to that sometimes I feel insecure and uncertain if it’s okay to like certain things, or behave certain ways. For example, i feel bad when I dislike many things that’s part of my culture. I questions myself if I have race issues or just I don’t like certain things that other people around me feel the opposite. I think it’s part of the identity searching. it’s uncomfortable sometimes but I realized that it’s important 🙂

  8. Pingback: My Asian Father | the quiet voice

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