Sometimes I wonder when emotions became the arch-enemy of strength. It’s an insult, isn’t it, for someone to declare, “She’s so emotional!”? Yet emotions are a significant part of what makes us uniquely human. And in typical fickle fashion, we are equally quick to insult folks who are completely emotionally unaware.
I recently ran across a Dilbert video poking fun at the stereotypical engineer, which highlights (with humor) the almost universal acceptance of the need for social skills. It’ll take less than two minutes to watch, and is worth the chuckle – especially if you know an engineer.
This causes us to laugh because it touches on the truth that unawareness of emotions leads to undeveloped social skills – something we’ve linked to pocket protectors and a calculator.
For the last quarter century the idea of Emotional Intelligence (EI) has been studied, pondered, debated, and lauded. Ideas originally received with skepticism have been supported by sound research. Emotional Intelligence became an accepted, and much talked about, component of an individual’s resume and portfolio during the job search. Businesses began including EI as part of their hiring strategy, realizing an emotionally competent individual was a better investment than a similar candidate with high technical intelligence and low social skills.
Yet with all the recognition of emotions and the importance of understanding, appreciating, and learning to live with them, emotions still get a bad rap. People who express their emotions are often dismissed as irrational and (over)sensitive. And while Emotional Intelligence became an important focus in Human Resources during the hiring phase, throughout the rest of the company, emotions remained a bit inconvenient. Emotional Intelligence seems to be fighting an uphill battle – one step forward, two steps back – because at some point in history, we redefined “strong men” as men without emotion other than anger (consider phrases like “real men don’t cry” and “never let them see you sweat”).
Somewhere along the way we forgot that men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Walter Cronkite, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were not only strong and amazing leaders, but also experienced – and expressed – deep emotion. Indeed, their actions were often a direct result of their emotions, but not necessarily the result of unchecked emotions like we saw with leaders like Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.
Stripping men (and by default women, since to be “emotional” was redefined as weakness) of their ability to understand, confront, and connect their emotions to right actions, has actually weakened humanity. One of the fibers woven into the essence of humanity is our ability to be moved into appropriate action by what we feel. (Incidentally, the word “emotion” comes from the Latin ēmovēre, to move (ex = out, movere = move, literally move out). When we divest people (men or women) of the essential fiber of emotions, it is like removing a strand from a cord; the whole person becomes weaker.
Emotional Intelligence research brought this to our attention, but did little to weave a healthy understanding of and relationship to emotions. Though we have begun to value people who are emotionally stable and to denounce those who we now consider toxic (because they either intentionally manipulate others or destroy others through ignorance), we have yet to embrace emotions and weave them back into our understanding of how to be fully human and live life well. We are ill equipped to manage our emotions and direct them onto a constructive course.
So what do we do?
Perhaps the first step is to realize that emotions are not the enemy. We need to learn how emotions are tied to our physiological make up – in other words, we were created to be emotional (not in a hysterical, irrational way, but to fully experience emotions). We must look at how Christ – fully God and fully man – experienced a wide range of emotions, and yet did not sin (Christ was not afraid of his emotions). And finally, we need to identify when our emotions are revealing idolatry vs. righteousness, so we can make choices empowered by emotions but directed in a constructive way toward what we hope to accomplish rather than make choices driven by unchecked emotion.
Starting next week, I’ll dig into each of these ideas in greater depth. Here’s the plan:
May 2 – Emotions are Not the Enemy
May 9 – We Were Created to Experience Emotions
May 16 – Forever Starts Now
May 23 – Emotions are Scary
May 30 – Emotions Expose Idols
June 6 – We Do What We Believe
June 13 – The Truth Will Set You Free
I owe Ken Sande of Relational Wisdom 360 (www.rw360.org) a great debt for the many insights he has given to me on this topic through his seminars, training, and personal conversations. – See more at: http://rw360.org/