The Hatfield and McCoys. The Howard and Turners. The French Eversole. Deadly gunfights, bloody poker games, and feuds that lasted years and claimed the lives of many. The only thing that any of these have in common is that they all came from the South.
Why does the Appalachian South have so much bloodshed? Why were there feuds like this in Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and any other southern state you can think of? Today, we discuss a solemn subject, but a required one. As someone who's fallen victim to the southern curse, today we get uncomfortably close to anger. Today, we look deeper into our southern roots and unmask maybe what you've known to be normal your whole life. Shall we begin?
Growing up, I was an angry kid. Even as a teenager I was an angry kid. Quick to judge, quick to anger and quick to violence. I got suspended for fighting in fifth grade. Then twice in sixth. Another two times in seventh; I think you know where this is going. I started boxing and wrestling at a younger age, so that my preteen 5'3" image could actually defend myself from the mess I got myself into. It instilled discipline, but it didn't completely extinguish my fiery roots. It just made them less noticeable.
I stopped getting into fights around sophomore year, rules of the gym and so forth. By then I could be held accountable and my head was a bit more level. The anger though was still there. It just attacked differently. It wasn't fighting at every test of my pride; instead, it manifested in a lack of sleep. A waking anger, one that tensed my muscles and ruined relationships. My words replaced my fists and I used them just as mercilessly.
Is there a happy end to this story? Sure, but I gave it for a reason. In the title right above my story, is the name Tom Smith. No relation — at least I don't think — to my own Smith clan. Tom Smith was a ruthless, callous and cold gun-for-hire. A man who shot and killed three people for those same tests of pride. In many ways, a man I could have become had I grown up in the Appalachian South. For a long time, I blamed myself for the results of my anger. Why shouldn't I? Anger isn't a mental illness, it's a feeling. A simple feeling that you can control, and decide on.
No, my friend, it isn't. Anger is a feeling, yes. Rage, on the other hand, is an illness. Letting that anger control you, when taking a test, when playing games, when talking to friends, that is truly what one calls a malady. A seething, burning in your heart that can only be coddled by conflict. Tom Smith is more than just a figure, he's me. He's you, and he's those on the side of you. I can never know who's reading my article but if this aligns with even one of you then I succeeded.
I succeeded in letting you know you're not alone, and also in telling you that it is a problem. A problem that doesn't go away. Now that I've told you my story, let's break down a bit of why the South is angry. Why my story is quite similar to either you, or people you know.
We're not completely to blame. Turns out, the south has a legacy of anger-management issues. It wasn't just "Bad Tom," it was everyone. While doing research for this article, I came across a study that measured responses in a northern university between students of southern heritage and northern.
The results were sobering. The southern students when tested responded more to a trigger with violence and had spikes of testosterone and cortisol, two hormones that show up more when you're angry. These are kids that didn't even grow up here, so why is their heritage still haunting them? Why are they so trigger happy?
As it turns out, the same piece of your brain that adopts dialects and accents can adopt emotional traits as well. Emotional traits like … anger. It's a longer story of how we have a culture of honor and we were constantly fighting to protect what's ours, but I've got a word count so I'll just link the study here.
The takeaway from all this is that people here are angrier than we think. More prone to it as a weakness, and more inclined to give in to it. If you're from here, heed my warning. Understand your emotions, and if you're angry, then get help. I did, and now I rock Tommy Bahama shirts and have a big beard. Pretty sweet gig if you ask me.