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Reader comment on Daniel Goleman's passage ...

Social Intelligence


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.
 



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