“YES. That’s IT!” I thought, putting down the newspaper clipping.
I gazed around my bedroom, its dusty rose walls matching my new 15-year-old style: shabby chic. My artwork -mostly sketches of my favorite actors- filled the walls, and next to my desk, where I spent long hours writing fan fiction, sat a collection of intensely sincere CDs by singer-songwriters I worshipped.
On top of the stack was Jewel’s Pieces of You, an album I listened, warbled, and cried to for roughly 99.98% of 1997. Which is probably why my dad thought to hand me that particular news clipping, featuring an interview with Jewel herself. The title quote was, “Do I have to be angry to be intelligent?”
I thought back to my 8th grade class, who, at the end of the school year, had voted me “Most Likely to Host QVC.” As a sensitive, straight-A student who’d never once thought about peddling jade brooches while sporting a fake tan, I was flummoxed.
“Why?” I finally worked up the nerve to ask my classmates.
“Because you’re always smiling!” they replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
I inwardly scoffed. I shared a home with not one, but two, bonafide geniuses, and while I never reached their intellectual heights, being smart was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
By the time Jewel’s quote found its way into my hands a year or two later, I felt completely misunderstood. Just because I was smiling and non-threatening, did that automatically make me clueless and dopey?
“PREACH!” I wanted to cry as I read the article.
Jewel, a fellow blonde who, like me, loved art, animals, nature, and poetry, had had a similar struggle in being taken seriously. And while I use the word “struggle” loosely, fully acknowledging the privileged place from which I write, this issue has resurfaced in my life time and time again.
In fact, by the time I was an adult, I had almost entirely stopped reading -once my favorite pastime- because the books I wanted to read weren’t the “smart” ones.
After what felt like a brief hall pass to study creative writing in college, I had to choose a career. I wanted to work on screenplays, but was that “smart”?
So, naturally I picked a career that looked intelligent, even if it was laughably opposed to the artistic, spiritual, independent person I actually was.
During my 20s and 30s, not a single person genuinely questioned that choice. In fact, it was usually admired and celebrated – or completely ignored because it was sooo obviously the right decision. Just like going to college, having a steady corporate job meant you were smart. And smart, much like extroversion and facial symmetry, wins.
The first time I decided to rebel, I did it right here – by starting this blog!
It was 2011, and I was now a married homeowner (more “smart” decisions). I called it “Go Guilty Pleasures!” and aired all of my secrets – all of the embarrassing, ridiculous, wonderful things that I liked just because they made my heart sing. ‘NSync, Glee, reality TV, dogs in costume, slap bracelets… I had a lifetime of skeletons to reveal.
The blog may have seemed over-the-top silly (and, er, probably still does), but that was the point. I was on a mission to prove, if only to myself, that “smart” and “silly” weren’t mutually exclusive. And if they were? Well then, dammit, I was choosing silly.
Still, though, a part of me was haunted by this notion that I’d never seem intelligent because I was too busy having fun. In 2016, when I became vegan and enrolled in a Humane Education Masters program (so I could seem smart about my new lifestyle), I spent two and a half years studying the world’s atrocities – from human rights to environmental protection to animal rights.
More often than not, I felt enraged by the suffering of my fellow beings and the planet we shared. I wanted to cry and scream and tell people how their choices were impacting ev-e-ry-thing.
But I didn’t.
In biting my tongue, I felt like a failure. I began to wonder if my entire life philosophy -the Golden Rule- needed revisiting.
“My brother called the other day and, for the first time ever, it’s like he read the news. He was PISSED [about the state of the world],” a friend recently said. “I was like, ‘Finally!'”
I stayed silent, wondering for what felt like the ten thousandth time: Do we have to be angry to be intelligent? By now, my age-old question had grown to include: What role does anger have in our lives and in our advocacy?
Is it okay to allow anger to fuel us? Where is the line? Do we break into animal labs and set executives’ houses on fire? What about lecturing our friends?
Or is anger simply a step on the journey? One we use to help pry open our own eyes so that we can better understand ourselves and the plight of others? If someone chooses to operate -and address others- from a place of anger, is this the easy choice or the hard one?
When does anger stop being inspiration and start becoming toxic?
For instance, how would you have reacted to this post had I come in guns blazing, instead of telling a story and then posing the above series of questions?
I get it. When things are f&#*ed up, anger is the first choice. It’s the natural choice. Sometimes we need to light shit on fire (IN THE METAPHORICAL SENSE, people). Anger can inspire change and the courage to point out injustices. But I’m not convinced that anger is the final stop. After all, anger may help shine a light on society’s faults, but will it fix them?
Again recognizing my limited and wildly privileged perspective, I can tell you that working through and past anger is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – and I do it every. Single. Day. If I can’t? I try to avoid public gatherings and conversation topics entirely.
Because I think you deserve better from me.
Because I think my campaigns deserve better from me.
And because I believe we all deserve to live from a place of peace.
How has anger helped or hindered you?
20 thoughts on ““Do I Have to be Angry to be Intelligent?””
it sounds like you worked your way through it all to find just the perfect place – wonderful.
Thank you so much, Beth – you always have the nicest things to say!
I think that if you’re not going to be angry, then you need to swear a lot. But really, I feel the same way. I don’t go around spouting my thoughts on everything, but the thoughts are definitely there. And also, being funny is a way for people to not see how smart you are so that they are not intimidated. It’s a thing. Fo’ sho’. Love love love
I find that being f@&#*% funny is best.
I’ve never associated anger with intelligence.
But I do see anger as an important, natural part of life. Maybe it’s my attraction to Buddhism that makes me feel like suffering is a part of everyone’s life, and anger can and does play a role in our suffering. But it also leads to change.
A year before I was in IHE, I was studying at a college program for adults who for whatever reason never finished the college degree they started at a more traditional age, or whenever. I got to be around the most intelligent people I had ever met, even though much of the world didn’t see them that way due to their past and/or the color of their skin.
Many of them, like me, were social justice activists. I had a vegan/ethics in food agenda (human rights included, a big part of my work was educating people about child labor in chocolate production). Unlike me, they were directly advocating for people’s lives, for supporting victims of gun-violence, and practiced nonviolence themselves, even though some of my classmates had once been in jail for violent crimes.
Anyways, one time I was listening to my classmate speak about his work supporting grief stricken families, victims of violence, and I said something like “more people need to know and be angry that this is happening.” He said something like… “it’s not about being angry, we don’t need to be angry.” And I was kind of thrown off guard.
Up until that point, the only way for me to transform my life and ethics and work for social change was from getting angry about the reality of what is. Apparently, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jewel, one of my favorite artists from elementary school, who I am ashamed to say I have not revisited very often since, was on a “guilty pleasure” morning talk show I saw recently. She reminded me there that she had been homeless before she had success. I mean now she is probably more than cared for, but still, I am not one to judge as the struggle doesn’t end when we become successful. It’s an ongoing battle and practice, just like the practice of nonviolence for people who have been violent. If you hadn’t heard the new song yet that Jewel shared on the show, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzX-0ng3gXk
Laura, thank you so much for this wonderful comment! I can’t wait to check out Jewel’s latest. You mentioned Buddhism, and one of the things I didn’t really touch on was my evolution of thinking [about anger] in terms of spirituality/enlightenment. In the past, I spent a lot of time wondering if my aversion to angry/angry people was a weakness, and usually felt inferior to those ‘crusaders’ unafraid of speaking up from the front lines. As I explore energy, my sensitivity and spirituality, and the changemakers I admire most, I feel more and more convinced that transcending anger (among other things) is the pathway to ‘heaven on earth.’
As someone who’s spent the last several years wrapped up in Energy Healing, anger is a way to bring back power. It helps us feel strong and can motivate us into action. And this can absolutely be useful and helpful in our lives. And as you know, it can also be offputting. We can rally the troops with it or scare them away. A few years ago when I did a (hypnosis) healing session on my frozen shoulder, when I got down into it, there was intense rage. It felt like all the anger from my entire lifetime and beyond had lodged itself in my left shoulder. And what I find fascinating is while I’m smack in the middle of separating from an abusive brother (having to hire a lawyer and everything), muscles that run from my left shoulder down my tricep, around my elbow and below are really hurting. My left arm/elbow is constantly talking to me and I’ll bet it’s a ton of anger waiting to be be let go. (I’ll be dealing with it in a session in a few days).
I’m so in awe of all you’ve done in the way of energy work – it’s absolutely fascinating to me how the body manifests our emotional/spiritual state and past experiences. (Something I’ve definitely experienced firsthand.) It sounds like we’re on the same page in terms of viewing anger as something to work through and heal. Since anger isn’t like the trans fat of the emotional world, LOL, we can’t just avoid it altogether and call it good!
Sometimes it can be good! When it’s used once in a while. Sparingly. Like a wedge of lemon.
I think anger can be a powerful motivator, the trick is to not let it hinder the process.
That being said, I think I’m sorry I’m missed your previous blog.
Well said!! And ha! It’s technically still this same blog (so all of those old posts are part of the Go Jules Go archive, for better or worse…), and my Google search stats show that an alarming number of people are still searching “Toddlers and Tiaras”…
So well said and I couldn’t agree more
Thank you SO much! I was a little nervous about sharing this one!
OMG I loved it. You are you, and not to be shadowed in silence by those who think anger is the only proper way through this. Love you, girl!
You have no idea how much your comment means to me – thank you!!
I think anger is a driving force. We can use it to channel our creative and intelligent energies into change in the world, if we want.
There are so many ways to use that emotion, not all of them have to effect change in the world, maybe they effect change only in your life (arguably by changing your life you change the lives of others around you).
It’s a complex topic.
I think acceptance that you are who you are and your intelligence is different from your siblings is a great place to start. I am actively trying not to prove something about myself to people these days.
I ask myself ‘who do I want to be?’
And usually, that’s enough.
Thank you so much for this comment! I’ve often wondered if one way to describe life’s journey is as ‘the coming home to our authentic selves.’ Seems so simple, and yet it amounts to a lifetime of seeking and asking, “Who do I want to be?”
And definitely looking at our childhood. Trying to go back and see what we were before the layers. Before we became who people wanted us to be and lost who we were.