Friday, September 18, 2015

Tuning In

I happened upon a couple of articles this morning that I found worth considering (this seems to be happening less and less, in my world).

The first, despite what I consider to be the overly heavy cheese-factor of its language--witness the title ("undeniably magnetic") and sentences like "People will feel you because you are feeling yourself"--offers some interesting points about what it is that makes for strong, supportive social interactions.

Introverts often struggle with social situations and with building relationships, but as Gabiola suggests, there is an inherent attractiveness in qualities such as quiet strength and grounded self-knowledge.  As she points out, it is possible to be "quiet and fierce."

When you know who you are, you can see people for who they are.  In a sense, by being tuned into yourself, you can, when you interact with others, tune into who they are and see them for what they are, without a lot of the noise and worry and distraction. 

The article I found a bit more compelling, however, is Brianna Wiest's summary of "10 Things Emotionally Intelligent People Do Not Do."

As Wiest points out, we spend a lot of time focusing on logic and reason as components of human intelligence, but undervalue the way in which emotions function in our day-to-day lives and decision-making processes.

"Emotionally intelligent" people--that is, people who "have the capacity to be aware of what they feel"--avoid falling into this trap.  They recognize that emotion, although subjective, is an integral component of any human relationship or interaction.

Thus, Wiest argues, they acknowledge the extent to which their emotions are responses, not realities.  They face an objective situation and they feel how they feel in response to it.

At the same time, however, they accept that--as psychologists will tell you--"feelings are not facts."

That doesn't mean, though, that feelings don't matter.  It means that something about the situation is triggering an emotional response.  If, for instance, you come home at the end of a long work day and think, "No one wanted to have lunch with me today.  I think everyone hates me," then you are responding emotionally to a reality.

No one wanted to have lunch with you today.  As a result, you feel like everyone hates you.

That doesn't mean they do.  It just means no one was able to have lunch with you today.  And you feel the way you feel, perhaps because you're tired and overworked and lonely and missing a friend who recently moved away.  Or any number of other realities.

Emotionally intelligent people manage to gain a measure of control over such responses, however, because they realize that their emotions are internal, not externally driven.  It isn't really about whether or not people would have lunch with you; it's about how you feel inside right now.

Because the fact of the matter is, if your internal barometer is low, all the lunches in the world with all the most wonderful people in the world won't really make you feel any better.

Which leads, in turn, to yet another capacity of emotionally intelligent people: they don't assume they know what will make them happy.

At first glance, this seems odd.  How can you be happy if you don't know what will make you happy?

Well, because the fact is, you don't know what will make you happy: you only know what you think should make you happy and you know what has made you happy or unhappy in the past.  A tendency to confront the future as a way of making up for--and remedying--the mistakes of the past or as a way of replicating previous moments of happiness closes you off to the fact that the future is always potentially quite different from the past.

As Wiest points out, "there are equal parts good and bad in anything."  In effect, emotionally intelligent people live with that, instead of framing experiences in terms of an all-or-nothing notion of "happiness."

Because emotionally intelligent people also realize that happiness is a choice that you can't always make, that being fearful is a natural reaction to change, and that having bad feelings doesn't mean you have a bad life. 

This is a point I've seen a lot of people stumble over: they think they have to be happy all the time, and if they aren't, it means they aren't happy and life isn't... good. 

I often wonder, "How happy do these people think the rest of us are, on any given day?"  I think the pharmaceutical industry has led them to believe that we're all just constant sunshine and roses and songbirds inside, and if you don't feel similarly, there's something wrong with you.

Personally, I think that, if this were the case, there would be no art.

Because, as Wiest points out "infallible composure is not emotional intelligence."  The emotionally intelligent don't suppress emotion; they work on managing it effectively.  And they screw up on that sometimes--as everyone does--and they know that this too is okay.

Because in the same vein, they realize, "I decide." That is, "They don't allow their thoughts to be chosen for them."

"You need to not be so sensitive...", "you need to calm down...", "you need to lighten up and learn how to take a joke..." 

Well, yes, maybe you do need to do all of those things.  But that's for you to decide, since these are your thoughts.  Maybe the person who's telling you these things is doing things that are insensitive or annoying or not funny.  Maybe this is a good person who's just being a total pain in the ass right now.

If so, you DO have the right to think, "Wow.  You are a serious pain in my ass right now."  And behave accordingly.

Emotionally intelligent people realize that "feelings don't kill."  

Feelings just happen.  Emotionally intelligent people know this, and they don't label those feelings "good" or "bad," they just accept that, right now, this is what's happening.

Which leads to one of Wiest's final points--and one of the most compelling, I think: emotionally intelligent people "don't just become close friends with anyone."

Trust and openness are slowly and steadily built over the course of a friendship or relationship.  They aren't automatic or instantaneous.  They can be damaged by words and actions and they can erode, over time, if they aren't maintained. 

When someone proves to be untrustworthy, that's a sign that maybe that person shouldn't be a close friend.  And if they already are, maybe they shouldn't be.

Because emotionally intelligent people recognize the nature and influence of feelings on their own lives and happiness, they acknowledge that this kind of situation isn't the end of the world because how they're feeling isn't reality itself.  It's a feeling.  It will change.

Ultimately, I think emotionally intelligent people realize that happy, stable lives are the product of a lot of constant balancing and decision-making in the here-and-now.

Sometimes the scales dip one way or the other, but in the end... that's life. 

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."