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  • Renato Zane

How emotionally intelligent are we?

Some considerations on a key skill we all need to cultivate.


A quotation on emotional intelligence popped in my Facebook feed and grabbed me by the lapels. It urged me to consider a few things.


The quotation appeared on the Philo Thoughts page and featured a charming 1959 black-and-white photograph of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in Paris.


The quote that provoked me into thought was by the writer Alain de Botton from his book, “The School of Life.” (2019) Here it is:

The emotionally intelligent person knows that love is a skill, not a feeling, and will require trust, vulnerability, generosity, humor, sexual understanding, and selective resignation. The emotionally intelligent person awards themselves the time to determine what gives their working life meaning and has the confidence and tenacity to try to find an accommodation between their inner priorities and the demands of the world. The emotionally intelligent person knows how to hope and be grateful, while remaining steadfast before the essentially tragic structure of existence. The emotionally intelligent person knows that they will only ever be mentally healthy in a few areas and at certain moments, but is committed to fathoming their inadequacies and warning others of them in good time, with apology and charm… There are few catastrophes, in our own lives or in those of nations, that do not ultimately have their origins in emotional ignorance. ~Alain de Botton

Let’s take a minute to think about these perspectives.


To begin with, I found it intriguing to ponder love as a "a skill, not a feeling." Do you find this to be true? It certainly is an interesting way to look at it. Love requires a lot of patience and very often hard work. This is a reminder that love is a verb; it's an activity, it requires action. So yes, I do agree that it's a skill. Think about a mother's love or the care of a person who willingly gives up something to help a stranger, for example. However I don't think we can negate that love is also a feeling. We feel something when we are loved. We feel something when we, in turn, love. Don't we?


This also prompted me to review St. Paul’s description:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

No doubt that to love this way requires the development of a few skills, but this action is built on a foundation of emotions.


The other considerations de Botton offers on emotional intelligence are equally thought-provoking.


Making time to consider what gives our working lives meaning, and understanding the necessity to come to terms with our inner preferences and the reality of the world; - Yes, I agree.


Learning to be grateful and also learning how to hold on to hope is important and speaks to the need to focus on what we have and can achieve, rather than what we lack; - Yes.


Accepting that life is hard, and yet still always striving to be optimistic; - Yes


With regards to mental health, I have some reservations. I wonder: are we really that troubled? De Botton proposes that we are mentally healthy only "in a few areas at at certain moments." How do you feel about that? I'm not sure I understand or agree; although, again, this is a useful perspective to examine. I think it's sound practice to be always checking in with ourselves to see how we are doing. How clearly are we thinking? How well are we managing at this moment (whatever moment it may be)? - Okay, while I’m not ready to accept the first part of his statement, I get where he’s going and support the need for better awareness of our mental well-being.


Finding ways to explore these notions with other people also strikes me as a positive thing to do, especially when we approach these topics with some elegance and reverence (..."with apology and charm” ). Did not the ancient Greek philosophers do the same? -Yes.


The last sentence hits like a punch to the gut. This is a big "Yes." Can we not agree that the cause of much pain and suffering in our world comes not from the mind, but from the bruised or wounded ego? Think of the times you snapped at someone in anger because you felt you had been unjustly treated. This is so common in all relationships and in our intimate lives. Until we learn to recognize and control our egos we are often like a swinging wrecking ball, reacting to every perceived injury with one of our own.

"The ego is only an illusion, but a very influential one. Letting the ego-illusion become your identity can prevent you from knowing your true self. Ego, the false idea of believing that you are what you have or what you do, is a backwards way of assessing and living life." ~ Wayne Dyer

The nature of the ego seems to be constantly vulnerable and under threat.


When we consider the ego in terms of nations, well, then it assumes monstrous proportions.


Think how countries sometimes go to war because of the perceived need for retribution for a past wrong or to punish another nation for perceived injuries to the core of a country's identity or to its sense of historic rectitude. Countries also have gone to war when authoritarian leaders seek to blame outside forces for woes that are internal and reflective of bad governance. The world is full of graves filled with victims of this kind of emotional ignorance or emotional manipulation. It's a horrible legacy.


How sad.


However, there is much hope for better outcomes in our simple awareness of it. When we recognize it, we create the space to choose a response.


This is emotional intelligence.


Photo by M Venter, via Pexels

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