Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Social Intelligence

--by Daniel Goleman (Dec 31, 2012)

One day, late for a meeting in midtown Manhattan, I was looking for a shortcut. So I walked into an indoor atrium on the ground floor of a skyscraper, planning to use an exit door I had spotted on the other side that would give me a faster route through the block.

But as soon as I reached the building's lobby, with its banks of elevators, a uniformed guard stormed over to me, waving his arms and yelling, "You can't walk through here!"

"Why not?" I asked, puzzled.

"Private property! It's private property!" he shouted, visibly agitated.

I seemed to have inadvertently intruded into an unmarked security zone. "It would help," I suggested in a shaky attempt to infuse a bit of reasoning, "if there were a sign on the door saying 'Do Not Enter.' "

My remark made him even angrier. "Get out! Get out!" he screamed.

Unsettled, I hastily beat my retreat, his anger reverberating in my own gut for the next several blocks.

When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us – explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt–they activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions. Their act has potent neurological consequences: emotions are contagious. We "catch" strong emotions much as we do a rhinovirus – and so can come down with the emotional equivalent of a cold.

Every interaction has an emotional subtext. Along with whatever else we are doing, we can make each other feel a little better, or even a lot better, or a little worse – or a lot worse, as happened to me. Beyond what transpires in the moment, we can retain a mood that stays with us long after the direct encounter ends – an emotional afterglow (or afterglower, in my case).

These tacit transactions drive what amounts to an emotional economy, the net inner gains and losses we experience with a given person, or in a given conversation, or on any given day. By evening the net balance of feelings we have exchanged largely determines what kind of day – "good" or "bad" – we feel we've had.

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Previous Reflections:

On Dec 27, 2012 Ganoba wrote:
 In the short term I take a pause to listen; to him and to me, then i am able to come up with a compassionate responce.
For  the long term I regularly remove garbage from my mind; residual feelings of hurt, humiliation, low self worth etc. This foundation helps the short term pause taking.

On Dec 27, 2012 a wrote:
I am so thankful for my daily dose of "paroxetine"!  When my doctor prescribed this to me he said, (not in so many words), "When someone dumps their toxic words/feelings on you, this medication will allow 'the words' to wash off you (not affect you the way they normally would)!  Medication works . . . thanks be to God for creating men/women able to come up with these "right combinations".
I am weak.  I am able to tolerate little in the department of over reactions . . . wrong reactions . . . too much drama-reactions . . . unjust reactions.  As a youth, I witnessed a lot of "emotional reactions" . . . both positive and negative . . . teaching me much.  
~As a child, I took it.
~As an adult, I can step back and assess it.  
~Best to keep emotions at bay . . . stick to love and logic . . . come to an orderly, more calm and rational place . . . if "the storm" was meant for me (I need to "take it") . . . if "the storm" was meant for someone else (I need to let it pass)
Personal story:  Lots of storms/unleashed emotions in my home in the 60s and 70s!  God and I hung out 'in the eye' of it!  I allowed the craziness of it to swirl around me but tried very hard not to get caught up in it/the pull of it.  In 'the eye', I stayed . . . with Truth and Peace.  (as best I could)

On Dec 28, 2012 BCKMISHRA wrote:
It is difficult but a matter of practice.One needs to be internally driven to counter the toxic comments affecting the balance of feelings negatively at the end of the day. Those who are externally driven will always be in distress and have loss of emotional economy. But I must admit, very difficult to be internally driven. 

On Dec 28, 2012 Conrad P Pritscher wrote:
 I have some difficulty in making clear separations between emotions and thoughts since they are so intertwined.  So instead of asking how do I transcend the emotional economy to make the emotions I entertain a decision and not reactive choice, I would change that to how do I transcend the rational/emotional economy to make the emotional rationality I entertain a decision not reactive choice?  Awareness is the key and awareness generates equanimity.  By noticing my noticing while I am noticing helps me avoid catching the "rhinovirus."   I recall reading that Plato stated one's experience is like riding a chariot with a white horse of reason and a black horse of passion.  The white horse of reason was continually in charge of controlling the black horse of passion from taking the chariot off the appropriate road.   My sense is that especially in the Western world, we all have been so overly trained in being overly rational  that we fail to notice that being compassionate has an emotional element and rational element..  As Gandhi said: "There is no way to peace.  Peace is the way," so too might we say there is no way to compassionate.  Compassionate awareness is the way. Warm and kind regards to everyone now and for all of 2013..

On Dec 28, 2012 david doane wrote:
Central in my transcending the emotional economy is to realize that no one else can "activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions."  I may activate circuitry of distressing emotions in myself, but no one has the ability or power to activate circuitry in me, and when I say they do, I'm fooling myself or trying to fool myself.  Emotions aren't contagious.  We don't "catch" emotions like we do a rhinovirus.  We influence each other and are stimuli in one another's world, but we can't make each other feel anything, be it happy, sad, angry, better, or worse.  The other doesn't determine my feelings.  My emotions are mine, and my transcendence occurs in realizing that, that is, making it a reality which I personally have accomplished only in some situations at some times thus far, with my goal being to grow further in that transcendence.  Nothing determines the kind of day I have except me.  I've had many experiences of becoming upset/agitated/angry at someone who is being unpleasant in one way or another at me, and I walk away from those situations disappointed in myself.  I've had a few experiences of maintaining my inner peace even in the presence of someone being difficult, and those occasions feel wonderful.

On Dec 28, 2012 j wrote:
My husband is a very proactive individual . . . me, by nature, more reactive.  A reactive person's emotional economy, to varying degrees, is affected by the people, happenings, circumstances . . . challenges of that day (whether we want it to or not)!  A proactive person's emotional economy (again, to varying degrees) is less affected by the variables of the day.
My husband goes into a day much the same as he comes out of it because of his "focus".  This can be good and bad!  He is less sensitive to/aware of OTHERS emotions because of his own needs/goals.  The more "reactive one" (me) seeks to better balance this.  We need to care about the needs/feelings/thoughts of our brothers and sisters . . . but not to the point we are consumed by them.    In matters "transcending" . . . I'm still learning.   

On Dec 29, 2012 naavin sata wrote:
 In our world every situation or problem we need to look  in three dimension one worldly two celestial  third in spiritual way first two gives us solution that depends on time and place and culture and religious belief third spiritual solution is most imp it also in reality gives us true solution that is beyond all negative or positive emotion .spiritual vitamins are described in Geeta,Bible,Koran,and Bhudda's teachings ,i am just expanding topic ,for all of us          in healthy emotional economy one must think end results before reacting.angry emotion spreads like volcano and kind consideret emotions spreads like cool summer breeze.My motto is shri krishnas gentle smile even on battlefield  .

On Dec 31, 2012 Ricky wrote:
In this case, the author actually could escape, and did physically, although the encounter shook him up enough to remain with him for a long while. I get to experience life from a different perspective perhaps.  This emotional economy is present every day in every class I teach, and from which I cannot physically escape to provide much needed distance from this toxicity. From my standpoint as a teacher days are filled with moments of emotional energy drain and emotional energy resurgence.  Case in point:  A student in one of the classes I teach.  I have allowed her to harass me each day she attends.  Her words remind me of the ‘mean girls’ I encountered every day of school, seventh grade through senior year, when I lived in fear of walking down the hallway, and couldn’t figure out where to sit for lunch.  Frankly most students know her, and in this class have actually given her a wide berth, which only recently I have noticed.  Much of time she is by herself in class.  However, what I have also noticed lately is that it’s not just only what she says; it is how she says it.  Each encounter each day could be different had she said it the way she imagines it came out, rather than in the tone it actually did come out.  I did talk with her once in my office after one of her outbursts, and she let out a string of pent up rage sentences about how I didn’t like her, how I pick on her, how horrible I make her feel, how my silly rules don’t make sense and what is the big deal anyway…none of this matters or is important.  I unfortunately have yet to transcend this situation, since I usually avoid self-imposed conflict at all cost, but I am fully aware this is my pattern and how she becomes my ‘teacher’ every day.  She has a stable family home, and in other areas of the school is constantly surrounded by peers.  I suspect though because her language is so emotionally charged that she may be unhappy, maybe lacking self confidence, and may not feel supported at some level, just like the security guard’s seemingly over-reaction could imply.  I don’t know.
What I have also learned is to somehow separate myself (the little s self) from identification with encounter, take a deep mindful breath at the belly, agni-the fire of life, and become aware of the inner turmoil bubbling, churning, and smoldering.  The longer belly exhale can fuel a flame that can burn this toxic rubbish up before it creates more setbacks in my life.  Desikachar speaks of this in “The Heart of Yoga”.   I rest at times in the recognition that awareness of the reaction within is the lesson to be learned this day, and the practice of igniting the ‘burn’ with awareness and breath can be enough for now.  

On Dec 31, 2012 Michael West wrote:
 I am surprised at this post from Daniel Goleman, who is a deeply experienced meditator. We do not "catch" negative emotions, as he suggests, unless we attach to them. Take a deep breath and smile. Wonder why you were in such a hurry in the first place. The security guard is a human being with as many challenges as you, and he is only doing his job. Can you feel empathy for his situation? If not, you might want to revisit this in your next sitting.

On Dec 31, 2012 amen wrote:
 yes it happens bt point is how to stop feeling low after such treatment from ur loved ones

On Jan 1, 2013 Chris Wheaton wrote:
I have discovered that as a human being my first emotion is to react and take everything personally.  However, it is most interesting when I am present to question my immediate thoughts with "Is this really about you?"  Nine times out of ten it has to do with experiences prior to the present that the other person is reacting to and usually has absolutely no recognition of because they have been so drawn in by their own pain body.  This is where forgiveness, compassion and empathy come into takes a high level of present energy but it is definitely worth strengthening the response of releasing the me and embracing the we to "see with different eyes" 

On Jan 1, 2013 Mair Alight wrote:
In every moment I have a choice. I can re-act compelled by my programming (judgment, criticism, blame, taking things personally)  OR I can choose to ACT IMPELLED (moved from within myself) by what is important to me (my needs, values and preferences). I believe, and have both experienced and witnessed in others, that everything we think, do and say is an attempt to attend to our needs (the Life Energy within us). This perspective invites me to empathy and compassion for myself and others, and I enjoy my life more, have more ease and sense of harmony within.

On Jan 1, 2013 John Daubney wrote:
There are events such as Daniel described where I can breathe deeply, smile, reframe what's going on so as not to take it personally, but there are also events that may hit a deep wound of my own or comes unexpectedly  and viciously from a close friend or family member where my circuitry is overwhelmed emotionally and I may  freeze, not knowing what to do but react.  In those rare moments I have learned to not respond (not always successfully) and instead deep breathe, affirm that "all is well," and perhaps ask Spirit for direction. In those moments of sudden emotional onslaught,  it is best for me not to react, thus giving  myself a chance to regroup and reframe  the reality of what has happened. I am also not averse to sharing my feelings with trusted friend if the feelings persist over time which can give me support but a different perspective as well.
 Consciousness of my thoughts and emotions  is first of all the saving grace for me. It is very important to refocus from what "he or she" has done to me. My power to feel better in these situations is stay with, and focus on myself and on changing my thinking process. When I see myself as a victim I can become very reactive and dis-empowered. . No matter how much Emotional Intelligence  I may possess, in the end I am human and imperfect. I am just thankful for the many tools I have accumulated so that I can find my way out of those moments without making matters worse.

On Jan 2, 2013 Kuldip Singh wrote:
 The difference we can make to the quality and happiness of people is great;it is so simple. But simpletons like the
Security man know not. More education in civil behaviour in schools is the answer.

On Jan 2, 2013 Narendra wrote:
 How do you transcend emotional economy to make a non-reactive choice? To be reactive is natural. That is the way nature made us. To overcome this tendency and be objective, we need to evolve in consciousness with self-effort. We can develop this habit of objectivity or ‘witnessing’ by shifting our awareness from our mind/thought process to a feeling of love in the heart. This shift in awareness makes the experience of love in our heart, our primary, normal state instead of a random emotional state that can easily be triggered both internally and externally. How do we gain the awareness and equanimity to avoid catching the "rhinovirus"? When our normal responsive state becomes love, the reactive “rhinovirus” of emotions will be reduced. This stability in emotion gives us the confidence and the time to respond, instead of hastily over react, to an unexpected hostility. Our emotional stability also creates a positive, predictable environment around us….. We can ignore the rare occasion of a surprise ‘virus attack’ as being a test of our own presence of mind in ‘witnessing’ and by reminding ourselves that we are all in different states of evolution and some of us are under unpredictable stress situations. This is a better alternative than being constantly pissed off with a defensive attitude, like a lonely, nasty tiger in a bad neighborhood. Can you share a personal story of transcending the emotional economy? A few days ago, I was all dressed up and in a hurry to go to an important appointment. A crow on a tree just outside the house, ‘did his job’ on me. I had to rush back, take a shower, get dressed again and be on time to my appointment. I had no reason or time to be pissed off. It helps to remember that there are many crows in human form, unaware of the damage they cause.  

On Jan 3, 2013 Beth Tilley wrote:
 I agree with Narendra.  Most often when I am confronted with a person who is "having a bad day" I do my best to give them attention that is "love filled".  I do my best to help them overcome their negativity.  Most of the time a nice genuine "SMILE" is a very contagious thing.  Once given it is rarely not noticed and if not immediately accepted, I'd like to bet that it was not forgotten but remembered somewhere down the day and resurrected and reused in an appropriate circumstance.

On Jan 3, 2013 Chris wrote:
I like this passage because of its vulnerability. I mean, choosing to walk through the building turned into a hairy situation! And yet the author chose to share the messy scene in service of elucidating a point about social intelligence and how our emotions and other person-to-person dynamics subtly but profoundly affect one another. That's cool in my book. And I know I can relate, often being the little rascal that I am :) and challenging authority -- I could totally be that guy trying to walk through the building and feeling anger at the guard's forceful response (in proportion to the actual offense). 

There's another point that's perhaps beyond the scope of the passage but worth mentioning, I think. It struck me intuitively at first, and then I was inspired to think more on it after seeing another comment express a similar perspective. Namely, another kind of intelligence: systems intelligence. That is, being aware of the systems/groups we're part of, and their rules, norms and contexts. From that perspective, noting the context of New York increasing security (don't know when this was in relation to 2001), the rules and norms of private property, etc might also ameliorate a situation like in this story, in addition to a mindfulness of emotional dynamics and people-to-people relationships.

Actually, I learned this lesson quite potently a few years ago in a restaurant: I was finishing a meal with friends, and being the aspiring-do-gooders that we were, :) couple of us wanted to help clean up the table (it was a pay-at-the-counter, non-table-service kind of restaurant). So we stacked our plates, and got up with them. Not seeing a bus bin, we decided to take our plates directly to the back kitchen. Bad idea it turned out! Or rather, systems-insensitive idea.

The owner (I assume) happened to be walking by at that moment, and seeing me with a stack of plates, said: "You can't go back there."  
I replied: "Oh, I'm sorry, where can I leave these dishes -- is there a bin or something?"
He retorted: "No, you don't have to do anything, just leave them on the table."  
I was still in my be-helpful context and not attuning to his systems norm, so being half way to the kitchen already I said, "That's okay, I want to clean up after myself." Spotting another small stack of dishes on a counter nearby where a bin might have been, I said "There we go, how bout I leave them there?"
Then he raised his voice, "No, no--you don't have to do anything!" The air was getting heated.

I was stuck in my "rational" mind, feeling stubborn to turn around and bring my dishes back to the table. I'm already up, it doesn't make sense to backtrack. Couldn't the owner see I was just being trying to be helpful anyway? These thoughts would turn to indignation. I had missed my opportunity to respond with kindness, been oblivious to where the owner was coming from within his system's context, and, *sigh*, compounded the anger that I received from the owner in my own self. It wasn't pretty, let me tell you.

At that moment, the kitchen staff came out and my friend who spoke Spanish started speaking to them. They thanked us in Spanish for helping with the dishes, the tension was momentarily diffused, and we left the restaurant. 

And this is where I like the Dharma Comic above, of someone feeling violated not by the wrongdoing done to them, but by their own rage in response. Gandhi said courage via violence is much preferable to inaction via cowardness. But after you've chosen to exhibit your courage using that kind of force, ask yourself: why did I need to resort to those means? How did I allow my dignity to be violated in such a way I felt I needed to defend it with force? (Side note: I've heard the Tagalog term for nonviolence is something like "alay dangal" which translates to "offering dignity") Introspecting this way, I can begin to neurally carve out another response, one that doesn't exacerbate anger but that moves with love.

On Jan 7, 2013 Paula Kiger wrote:
I created a FourSquare check in designed to bring a tiny moment of happiness and optimism to the drive in to work:  (see link);

On Jan 30, 2013 bharat wrote:
 A pertinent question baffling best brains of humanity and students of positive psychology.. i am repeating  my beloved SIR's words.. HE says... '"one can notice the change in one's mind and body, when we are about to be taken over by negative emotions. educating one's emotions is the key. just as you clean your physical body you have to clean your mind and heart every day.. and this is what real meditation or yoga is all about. you meditate on human heart, on the negative emotions that it contains and you remind yourself every morning that you have this capacity to clean, and, clean the 'psychological dust' that has settled on you heart and, be aware and be aware to clean them and keep them under a healthy control.."' 

On Mar 4, 2013 Eric wrote:
 in the last 2 years i have been layed off work for for a total of 10 months. In that time of being layed off, I have finished my firefighter 1&2. my hazmat . now I'm in school to pursue RN. life is what you make it. one of my favorite quote          "  I said I was great way before i believed it"  Muhammad Ali. in other words fake it till you make it

On Mar 21, 2013 Vrej wrote:
 By practice mindfulness

On Mar 1, 2015 Colette wrote:

 well what i feel is this:     a reactive choice is a pattern or habit and although i cannot see what is happening on the quantum level, I have a choice about how i will respond or not respond, if i am in a place of awareness.....and in that there is freedom.
In the beginning i was unconscious of this choice and suffered.   Now if i am aware....and this is more often than previously ....i can see that the other person is acting in his pattern/habbit....according to his past experiences, cultural education etc.
So when we can create a few seconds of space between such an event and our response, we can choose HOW we respond.  We don't have to accept their gift of negativity.  They may offer it but we don't have to accept.
I think that catching strong emotions, assuggested in the above story is a habit.  It doesn't mean I don't feel the negativity, I would much rather experience positivity but I see it for what it is, a puff of smoke really, just passing by, like everything else, and i don't have to add anything to it from my side. 
I can see now why the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" may have come into being.  They only have the power we give them.
We can choose to disempower ourselves, if that's we really want! 
Hanging on causes me discomfort.  I think the saints call this attachment. 
Maybe I'm finally getting it!

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