Emotional intelligence principally covers the body’s systemic responses, like circulation, respiration, digestion, reproduction and elimination. Unconscious nerve reactions like pain or pleasure fall into this category as well, as do the basic emotions of anger, sexual arousal and the “fight or flight” reflex.
Actualizing emotional intelligence also encompasses what Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, defines as “emotional brilliance”: the development of our own emotional self coupled with the ability to empathize and redirect someone else’s emotions. Rage is especially difficult to control; even trained hostage negotiators cannot say with certainty what tips an angry gunman to surrender or to self-destruct. As evidence of such skill, Richard Strozzi Heckler, cofounder of the Lomi School, recounts this story from his friend Terry Dobson, who lived in Tokyo during the 1950s:
Dobson was one of the first Americans to learn aikido, an ancient Japanese martial art devoted solely to self defense. While riding the subway one afternoon, a large, aggressive and very drunk man got on the train. Staggering and cursing, he swung at a woman holding a baby, sending her sprawling, and frightened the remaining passengers. Dobson stood up to take on the man, believing this was definitely a case of self defense, but stopped when the drunk decided to teach the “foreigner some Japanese manners.” The drunk was about to slug Dobson when someone yelled “Hey!” in a cheery voice.
Spinning around to see who called him, the drunk found a small man in a kimono, probably in his seventies, smiling at him. He waved the drunk to come sit with him, asking what the man had been drinking. The drunk rudely answered, “Sake, and it’s none of your business,” but the old gentleman didn’t let on and began extolling the virtues of sake and how he and his wife enjoyed opening a bottle in their garden. He rambled on about his garden and the persimmon tree there until the drunk’s anger began to recede. The drunk admitted that he, too, liked persimmons, and when the old man commented that his new companion’s wife was probably lovely as well, the man revealed that his wife had died.
When Dobson left the subway, the formerly violent drunk had his head in the old gentleman’s lap, sobbing about his late wife, his lost job and his overwhelming shame. Using no force or even harsh words, the old Japanese gentleman had completely diffused the situation by simply “being there” for the other man, giving the drunk his sympathy and undivided attention. Such skill exemplifies human connection and true emotional brilliance.
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