this week, a close friend of mine wrote, “is emotional intelligence a boon or a bane? i don’t know.” her brief, but insightful, explanation of this concept reminded me of peter salovey and john mayer’s opening question in their ground-breaking journal article “emotional intelligence”. they ask, “is “emotional intelligence” a contradiction in terms?” (185). i promised i will respond to her question – here is my take on this complex concept. this complex concept came into the public space in 1990 when psychologists, john mayer and peter salovey offered the first insights into this concept in the article mentioned above. since then, daniel goleman who popularized the concept in his book “emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than iq,” writes, the phrase emotional intelligence, or its casual shorthand eq, has become ubiquitous, showing up in settings as unlikely as the cartoon strips dilbert and zippy the pinhead and in roz chast’s sequential art in the new yorker. i’ve seen boxes of toys that claim to boost a child’s eq; lovelorn personal ads sometimes trumpet it in those seeking prospective mates. i once found a quip about eq printed on a shampoo bottle in my hotel room.” just what is emotional intelligence?
one model defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. it is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving; and the ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person. i am not comfortable with the phrase “manage … the emotions of others,” its implications are a bit gray. i prefer the model that defines emotional intelligence as: “… the capacity to reason about emotions, and of emotions to enhance thinking. it includes the abilities to accurately perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth (197).
i prefer the second model because it suggests that emotion is a feeling state, which includes physiological responses and cognitions, that conveys information about relationships. for instance, happiness is a feeling state that conveys information about relationships that you would like to be with others. contrarily, fear is a feeling state that conveys information about relationships the urge to flee from others. intelligence, on the other hand, refers to the capacity to reason validly about information. for example: verbal intelligence concerns your mental ability to reason with and about verbal information, and of verbal knowledge to enhance thought. if you’re interested in knowing more about emotional intelligence, i suggest you read “models of emotional intelligence,” which deals with the four-branch model of emotional intelligence. for now, i return to the question my friend asked – is emotional intelligence a boon or a bane?
though a complex concept, most people know the boon of emotional intelligence: first, it is a skill that anyone can learn, and if you’re willing to put whatever you learn into practice, you’ll be able to find some success; second, when you understand your emotions (self-awareness) and can tap into the emotions of others, you get to feel a little bit of what others feel when they are around you (empathy). this allows you to stay in better control of your own emotions (mood management), while also preventing you from causing harm to others because you’ll feel that harm internally (compassion); third, by understanding the emotions of everyone else around you, you can find ways to relate to others at a core level (sympathy). this improves interpersonal relationships and draw people closer to you in social situations (managing relationships); fourth, if your emotional intelligence skills are enhanced you are less likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors (self-motivation); fifth, a well-developed emotional intelligence makes emotional decisions, which happen faster because only the emotions of the situation are being examined, a lot easier to make than logical decisions. logic dictates that every scenario be evaluated, estimated, and anticipated; lastly, emotional intelligence is a skill that transcends industries, hobbies, and situations because it is always applicable.
a lot of people are cognizant of the boon of emotional intelligence, but a lot less people are aware of the bane of emotional intelligence – a lot of people live with it without recognizing it. here is the bane of emotional intelligence: first, compassion is a big load to carry. the word comes from latin – to “suffer with.” this is what makes it a big load. people confuse compassion with sympathy or empathy, but they mean different things. sympathy/empathy means being concerned about someone else and feeling their emotions. compassion, on the other hand, means being concerned about someone, feeling their emotions and wanting to do something about it. compassion is a big load to carry because it can interfere with your success and happiness. you don’t think so? i may be wrong, but one of the saddest things that can happen to you is being with someone you know you shouldn’t be with because they hinder your ‘progress’, but you feel concerned about them, feel their emotions and want to do something about their situation – risking your own happiness; second, because you’ve made the sacrifice to stay, you are more likely to suffer emotional self-regulation. emotional self-regulation can be nice because you “don’t blow your stack” when you’re angry. i believe in blowing my stack and living longer. bottling up has many health hazards. emotionally, blowing up has benefits. when you lose your cool, and make someone else angry, you get the opportunity to apologize and be forgiven. apologies and forgiveness can enhance relationships. whatever you do though, avoid words that hurt your lover’s sensibility – whatever you have accepted as a flaw, should remain accepted. for instance, you can teach someone to pick up after himself/herself – watch “the karate kid,” and see how the man teaches the young kid to pick up after himself. however, you be the judge between these two reactions: your lover has a habit of leaving things and clothes lying around and this pisses you off one day and you either say, “i am tired of picking up after you. for christ’s sakes, pick up that thing.” or you say, “what kind of home did you grow up that they didn’t teach you to pick up after yourself? what kind of brain do you need to be able to pick up after yourself”; third, when you don’t blow up, you are exercising self-regulation, but also, self-awareness. it may not be bad, but self-awareness can turn you into a control-freak – you eat more healthy foods, you exercise religiously, you get into less fights with strangers, you avoid situations with potential for outbursts and display of true feelings with your lover, you avoid cursing drivers that cut in front of you in traffic. have you ever found yourself waiting patiently behind two drivers in gaborone who are parked side by side and holding a conversation in traffic when the lights go green? self-awareness makes you do and say safe things. you have to admit when you have to watch everything you say and do because some people around you are sensitive, it can frustrate you no end; lastly, whereas, being able to identify and recognize emotions, consciously think about them and use them in a logical manner are the main components of emotional intelligence – they are also it’s dangers when you relate with others. you see, understanding the emotions of others gives you the knowledge to also manipulate them.
some may say the last point is not emotional intelligence. well, you will be right to think that. but raise your hand if you haven’t manipulated anyone in your life – or if you haven’t been manipulated yourself. the problem is that emotional intelligence can be “morally neutral”. while it can be used to help, protect, and promote yourself and others, it can also be used to promote yourself at the cost of others. in its extreme form, emotional intelligence can be sheer machiavellianism – when other people become social tools you use to push yourself forward at the expense of those others. please, let’s not confuse machiavellianism with psychopathy or even social impairment syndromes, like asperger’s syndrome, for instance, sheldon cooper in the tv sitcom the big bang theory. here’s is a brief take on the differences between the three: a person living with asperger syndrome may not know what you feel. a psychopath doesn’t care what you feel. a machiavellian manipulates your feelings for his/her selfish ends. you don’t even have to manipulate others, an over-inflated belief in your own intelligence can be dangerous. what do you think destroys othello – his pride and his blind belief in his own perceptions and assumptions or jealousy? for instance, if you believe you are right, but you need to say sorry, you are deceiving yourself.
it’s a pitfall of intelligent people to assume they are intelligent in every situation. this is my belief, when you think and learn fast, you learn to learn in a certain way. otherwise, when the world does not give you the results you expect, you may find it hard to adapt. so, be emotionally intelligent, but learn to adapt. as far as intelligence is concerned, i have personally concluded that the ability to adapt, to change your mind, is the highest form of human intelligence. let me rephrase that, the ability to recognize that you can be wrong is what i call intelligence. in everything you do, therefore, keep an open mind.
 Salovey, Peter & Mayer, D. John. (1990). Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality. 9, 185-211.
 Goleman, Daniel. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. Bantam Books.
 Mayer, D. John, Salovey, Peter & Caruso, R, David. (2004). Emotional Intelligence: Theory, Findings and Implications in Psychological Inquiry. Vol. 15, No. 3. 197-215. Lawrence Earlbaum Associates Inc.
 Mayer, D. John, Salovey, Peter & Caruso, R. David. (2000). Models of Emotional Intelligence In R. Stenberg. Hanbook on Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter eighteen.