Monday, December 5, 2005

Collateral Reading Report

It is late one recent evening as I am drifting off to sleep. At some point I detect the faintest sound which I almost dismiss as the cry of my neighbor’s baby, except - there it is again. Within a few seconds the urgent pitch and assertive cadence turn suspicion into belief, although, not without astonished wonder. For some reason I don’t feel like an intruder since it seems my neighbors have nothing to hide about their audible expressions of love.

Still I search myself for any voyeuristic motives – none found. Rather, it all just gives me pause and a cause to ponder, almost like the time I saw northern lights in Michigan. As a musician I have the same feeling that I get when I hear a really special song for the first time. Then I start to wonder if this is something missing from a lot of homes in recent years – does our sense of shame or insistence on modesty keep a lot of parents from allowing their children from hearing this? What would be more life-affirming during the formative years…and in ancient days didn’t the family all sleep in the same space till the kids were married? Could it be something a lot of young people miss out on these days? But I digress. What this amounts to is my perception of something that doesn’t originate with intellect, but with feeling. What I heard that night was an expression of pure emotion – and it was a true communication of such, since information was sent and received in some capacity. As a typical engineer with network experience I tend to think of communication of that only involving words and cognitive information, so this type of communication – especially of such a beautifully earthy variety – is simply fascinating, and many times, provides fuel to the imagination that would otherwise simply run dry.

This kind of emotional understanding is what Daniel Goleman covers in his book Emotional Intelligence.[1] I had first learned of the book during a discussion of effective church leadership; specifically, how one’s ability to perceive and another person’s feelings can greatly increase the quality of communication, and in turn yield greater understanding, productivity, and effective teamwork. Overall, I found a lot in here that helps me understand myself as well as unlocking the door toward learning to better understand the feelings of others as I continue to prepare for Christian ministry.

First, the book really brought home to me the sheer importance of emotion in all aspects of human life – if not other forms of organic life as well. Again, as one who spends most of his life in his own cerebellum, this fact has surprised me over and over throughout the years and this book is a welcome reinforcement of that revelation. Fortunately, these concepts don’t require me to understand a wealth of psychology, meaning, I don’t necessarily need to know what the other person is feeling, but rather to be as attentive as possible to consider another’s feelings before I act or speak in response to whatever he or she has just expressed.

Goleman seems to cover a breadth of topics that will surely arise throughout life and ministry. After he begins with a cutting-edge description of the science behind emotions throughout the brain and body, he then considers social aspects of interpersonal relationships, education, crime, and approaches to therapy – all from the viewpoint of taking the emotions into account in ways they were typically not considered until the past three decades.[2] He offers suggestions as to how this emotional intelligence could be applied in society whenever we shape minds or help repair damage from abuse, neglect, or injury such as in the inner-city where many kids simply are emotionally under-developed due an unforgiving home environment.[3]

But I get the feeling that his chapters containing theory will be valuable to re-read from time to time as it seems to simply shed light on many things I’ve pondered about emotional life. Early on he covers things like “emotional memory” which can cause us to react, sometimes quite dramatically, to an event which simply – yet powerfully - reminds us of a past experienced trauma.[4] This is an example of something I’m sure to encounter some day should someone suddenly have a flashback to a devastating past event and finds him or herself in need comfort and counsel.

On a personal level I appreciate his treatment of what the church once called temperantia, which is basically the achievement of a relatively mature handle upon the emotions so that they do not dominate a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.[5] In fact, Goleman uses my favorite word in relation to this topic: “balance”. So many times in life I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not possible to simply ignore or devalue feelings, yet I act a fool when they get the best of me. So what’s there to do? I must find a middle ground. It takes a huge investment of time, contemplation, and prayer – plus, I have to painstakingly apply it to various social settings and other scenarios that present their unique stimulation and depletion of the emotions. In short: it’s a discipline, and it’s invaluable. So the hope for this is that this balance can serve as a pattern for those around me – if folks see it working to my advantage then hopefully they will seek the same balance. This balance will help me to remain calm when comforting others and hopefully react appropriately to their feelings and expressed concerns. After all, I gather that Jesus Christ was the most balanced person – in all aspects of life – who ever walked the earth, so why would I not want to seek balance in my own life and hopefully lead others to seek the same? Plus, I get to enjoy relationships to a greater degree, and that will be a tremendous blessing.

Another application of emotional intelligence that I’d like to see more in church ministry is the integration of the concepts into educational and small group settings. So, if given charge over the materials and teaching modes, I would want to check that the tact is not only engaging the cognitive intellect but also the emotions and even the intuition.[6] Specifically, I would want to see if there is any need for some education in what Goleman would probably call “emotional literacy”. He illustrates throughout the book how we can find people throughout much of Western society who were away from the traditional upbringing of a rather simple, family-centered life and so are prone to disconnectedness from their own emotions and henceforth from those of others.[7] It seems that many church staff and laity would benefit from a tutorial in the benefits of emotional intelligence and hopefully find ways to blend these concepts with programs addressing Christian growth, addiction recovery, and many others. The goal here would be to equip growing Christians and anyone else to whom we minister with an ever greater awareness of the emotional dimension of life and that it’s not something to be neglected, feared, or misused. In fact, it seems to me that this kind of education would help the Church and its people live out the Golden Rule, to treat others as we would have them treat ourselves.[8]

Works Consulted

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.

[1] On Page 114 he begins a striking illustration about emotional messages

[2] Page 38 – in 1980s, psychological views of intelligence began to envelop more than pure intellect

[3] Discussion of a program in New Haven, Connecticut beginning on Page 269

[4] Page 21, Neural Alarms

[5] Page 56 begins the chapter “Passion’s Slaves”

[6] I’m actually borrowing from a preaching class syllabus; criteria for a good sermon has these 3 appeals

[7] Pages 129-130

[8] Matthew 7:12 paraphrased