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?
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!