It was literally my first day on the job. I had driven five hours to a little house out on the edge of the prairie frontier, Rolla, North Dakota. There I met with a group of staff members from hundreds of miles around who had gathered for a day of training. Leading the training was a wise and witty woman, Ellen Dunlop, who had gathered a host of resources and ideas for us to think about in our work of strengthening children and families. The first topic that she turned our attention to that day was the topic of human intelligence and how we understand it. Little did I know that within an hour two questions from her would revolutionize my thinking.
“How Smart Are You?”
The first thing we discussed about human intelligence was how we define it. Ellen suggested that a great deal of thinking on this topic could be summarized by one question that we often asked: “How smart are you?”
It’s an interesting question. It suggests that you can directly measure someone’s mental competence. It also suggests that a person’s level of “smartness,” or intelligence, can be represented pretty straightforwardly by a single score on a measurement of intelligence known as an IQ test. Sit down with a pencil and a test on paper, fill out the answers, and within a few days or even hours you can get back a score that tells you, “You are ____ smart.” Fill in the blank. A score of 100 means you have average intelligence; 145 means you’re smarter than most others around you; 189 means you’re a certified genius, and so on. This kind of thinking about intelligence suggests that a person’s mental capacity is a single domain best captured by how a person responds to questions on a test. The emphasis is on “smart.”
But then Ellen suggested that perhaps there was a different and better way to ask the same question, even using the same words, but in a different order: “How are you smart?”
How are you smart? What a question! It changes things dramatically. It no longer suggests that we are trying to assess your level of “smartness” on a scale from 1 to 500. Instead, it suggests that each person is “smart” but the focus should be on how individuals are smart — in many different ways. It suggests there are different kinds of intelligence.
Much current thinking on human intelligence has moved in the direction of this simple question. Some theorists suggest there are anywhere from seven to fifteen different domains of intelligence. These might include verbal ability, musical capacity (vocal or instrumental), athletic ability (also known as kinesthetic intelligence), mathematical talents, artistic gifts, interpersonal (or relationship) intelligence, and even more. If nothing else, it opens up a world of possibilities to help us understand that intelligence is represented in multiple domains of human experience. It also suggests the unique and divine capacities that each child of God possesses.
An echo of this idea is found in Doctrine and Covenants 46:11-12:
For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
Although this section refers quite specifically to spiritual gifts, I believe that a useful analogy may be drawn to the idea that each child of God is given different gifts of intelligence. Some can paint a magnificent portrait. Some may listen with special tenderness to others. Some can perform complex mathematical equations with ease. Some have a great capacity to dance or to sing. Part of a parent’s most important responsibility is to help his or her child to discover and nurture such gifts of intelligence. They are meant to be developed and expressed so that “all may be profited thereby.”
From IQ to EQ = Emotional Intelligence
One domain of intelligence that has received much attention in recent years is an area that has been called “EQ,” or emotional intelligence. As I have spent time studying this topic, I have become persuaded that it has much importance in our lives and our relationships.
Emotional intelligence might be defined as a component of interpersonal or relationship intelligence, or our capacity to build and maintain personal relationships with others. Specifically, emotional intelligence concerns our awareness of our own and others’ emotions, their influence on us, and how to manage them in positive and meaningful ways. For instance, are you aware of how music affects your emotions and how it might be used to uplift your spirits when feeling lonely or discouraged? Are you able to discern when you feel angry and need to take steps to lower your temper or your hostility to family members? Are you sensitive to the confusion or rejection a spouse might feel when you ignore efforts at home or fail to express any appreciation? Just as most dimensions of intelligence can be learned and developed, so can a person’s emotional intelligence be developed and magnified over time. And the consequences may be vital.
Emotional intelligence is not about IQ, it is about being aware of and sensitive to emotions or feelings that affect your heart and the hearts of others — about being “heart smart.” Interestingly, research suggests that it is not IQ that best predicts a child’s later success in life as an adult. It is not grades on tests in school. It is not behavior in the classroom. A better predictor of a child’s later adaptation as an adult is how well that child gets along with others and learns to manage social relationships successfully. And that is all about emotional intelligence.
Making Emotional Contact with Others
Perhaps a personal example will highlight the importance of emotional intelligence. As a student in graduate school in Oregon, I had the opportunity to be involved in a number of fascinating and challenging research projects. One of these involved the research for my dissertation in which I interviewed parents who had experienced the death of a child.
I had the chance to interview a corporate executive with Hewlett-Packard Corporation, a faithful and active Latter-day Saint man, who was among the top leaders of one the world’s top companies. To say I was somewhat intimidated is an understatement. Yet his interview stunned me. He had lost a teenage son in a tragic auto accident. And he commented that upon seeing the outpouring of love and response to his son’s death from hundreds of friends and community members, he examined his own life and realized something. He said that he realized that his young son had learned lessons and mastered skills in relationships with people that he himself had never yet learned or internalized. Of course, being curious, I asked him what he meant.
His ideas were profound, but one that has stayed with me ever since was this simple comment: “I found that I needed to be much more aware of the emotional experiences that people had when they were with me.
Now I always ask myself the question: What am I doing to make emotional contact with the person I am interacting with right now?” That is emotional intelligence. He shared practical examples, such as calling a person by name, smiling, looking them in the eye, giving warm compliments, listening with attentiveness, and other such skills. All of these things make a person feel valued, cared for, and appreciated. I have asked myself the same question now hundreds of times in the years since that learning experience.
I later realized that this idea, the sensitivity to how we make emotional contact with others, is similar to something I learned from Dr. Brent Barlow at Brigham Young University. In a class on marriage, he taught us to ask the questions: (1) How do I feel when I am in the presence of others? (2) How do others feel when they are in my presence? The emotional quality of our interactions with others is often a good barometer of the quality of our relationships. Love, peace, joy, patience, forgiveness — these are the emotions and qualities that help us to feel at home and at harmony in our family relationships.
I have searched long and hard for good examples to learn from in how to make emotional contact with others. I have found a remarkable example: little children. The most striking experience I have on a regular basis of someone making a positive and loving emotional connection to me is probably when I walk in the door from work. Then it is that I hear “Daddy!” shouted from one or more voices, and children begin popping up to share a smile, give a hug, share an exciting story, look into my eyes, jump into my arms, and otherwise make me feel needed and welcome in the world. Learn emotional connection from the children in your life.
The Virtues of Emotional Intelligence
Each domain of intelligence has particular skills associated with it that can be learned and applied in practical ways. For example, a skill in musical intelligence is reading musical notes. The primary skills associated with emotional intelligence include awareness of your own emotions, managing your own emotions in positive ways, sensitivity to others’ emotions, and empathy or reaching out to others emotionally. Developing and practicing these skills occurs best as they are modeled in caring, meaningful ways in the home.
One of the virtues of emotional intelligence is learning when and how to respond to others when they need emotional support. Individuals who tap into the emotional experience of others and remember it, providing a phone call or listening ear when others have forgotten the need, are practicing this virtue in a way that blesses others. I visited with a man recently whose wife has been deployed on a military assignment. He was very discouraged. I asked him what support he was receiving and he made a telling comment: “Oh, the support lasted about three days, then everyone went back to their own lives.”
In contrast, I was impressed by a passage from Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s recent book, Leadership, in which he recounts the aftermath of September 11, 2001 in New York City. He attended hundreds of funerals conscientiously as the city’s mayor. And he made this statement:
Everybody likes weddings. Funerals are difficult. That’s why one’s needed, and why it means more when one shows up. The fun events–weddings, parties, fancy dinners–all these are wonderful. And they’re important; a leader ought to join with people in enjoying those rewards for hard work and sacrifice. But when the chips are down–when someone you care about is struggling for answers or burying a loved one–that’s when the measure of a leader is taken. (Leadership, 2002, p. 256)
That is also when the measure of love is taken, and perhaps the most genuine measure of emotional intelligence. It is not measured by a pen and paper test. It is measured in the responses of the mind and heart to the emotional needs and experiences of others, especially those we care about most.
So, ask yourself the question: How smart am I when it comes to emotional intelligence? How important is it?
Think of the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Did He not go out of His way to understand and respond to the emotional experiences of others? Indeed, consider a central purpose of the Atonement of Christ. Alma 7:11-12 teaches:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. . . . And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Emphasis added)
His intelligence, Christ’s pure and profound comprehension of our deepest feelings and needs, was perfected through the process of eternal sacrifice and love. His Atonement led him to descend “below all things, in that he comprehended all things” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:6). His example is ours to follow.
Christ sacrificed through the Atonement partially so that He might know us fully and succor us in our emotional challenges. Surely, then, this is a domain of intelligence worth learning and pursuing in our own lives.