No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods,
small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up…
– Ephesians 4:14-15 (The Message)

Some hard-to-hear headlines over the past week: “Disapproval Rate for Congress at Record 86%” and “Gulf Between Political Parties Reduces Standard and Poor’s Confidence.” Our financial stress ebbs and flows from what feels like an endless tidal wave of the countless consequences of bad behaviors. Is our national budget mess simply the result of our elected leaders’ immaturity? Although able, they often seem neither ready nor willing to grow up. We have come to trust leaders of all our institutions – not just those in government, but that’s an obvious place to start – a whole lot less lately. Their antics remind us of the kinds of things that we (some of us, anyway) used to do in high school. A former religion writer for the Washington Post reported that he left the District in part because “in Washington, it’s not the heat….It’s the humility. I haven’t been in a place with so many people clamoring for attention since junior high.”

When psychologist Daniel Goleman published Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ in 1995, it became a classic. The first in a series of books on different kinds of intelligence, Goleman based “EI” on what was back then ground-breaking brain and behavioral science research. Essentially, he redefined what it means to be socially smart. By the time he published his next book, Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence (2002), Goleman had created four simple categories for measuring leaders’ (and followers’) competence, through his “EI” lens:

Social awareness
Social management

Let’s say that, in a meeting with a group of other people, you demand I change my behavior. Your demand triggers my anger. Questions that might emerge for me are:

How do I know I’m angry (self-awareness)?
What will I do right now with my anger (self-management)?
How is the rest of the group responding in this moment (social awareness)?
How might my response affect others, as well as the group (social management)?

Goleman dared conclude that, when it comes to one’s overall success in life, E.Q. (emotional quotient) is usually a better predictor than I.Q. He also quotes these ancient words from the philosopher Aristotle: Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right reason, for the right purpose and for the right way – this is not easy.

When we become angry in the right ways (religious tradition would call this righteous anger), we are, in Goleman’s lingo, exercising our emotional intelligence. Of course, anger is just one of our feeling responses. Sadness, fear, even joy can also emerge from challenges or confrontations. “EI” implies we know what we’re feeling.

“Intelligence” is taken from the Latin verb intelligere, which means to choose or to discern. When we try to discern our truth in matters that matter to us, we are seeking to use our hearts and minds wisely – in ways, I believe, God intended. With God’s help, we learn, understand, reason and then communicate things more intelligently. But how much more intelligent do we really want to be? How ready, willing and able am I to look at myself and my own behavior before I critique someone else’s? And even when I have learned how to pass the “ready, willing and able” test, will I do that again – and again?

In the church our time, energy and other resources are readily spent on what we might call spiritual or religious intelligence. But how much of an investment are we as people of faith willing to make in other kinds of wisdom and discernment? How might God also want us to use our emotional intelligence?

The New York Times Magazine recently carried an essay entitled “Geekdom Revisited: Was junior high really all that bad?” The writer, now a published author and happily married mother, describes her painful experience of being bullied by a male classmate in her teen years. Nowadays she feels “magnanimous, secure, and pretty,” and she longs to show that guy just how well she has done since eighth grade. So she screws up her courage and “friends” her old bully on Facebook. Several weeks pass. He does not respond. Eventually she deletes her “FB” request. “And there I am again,” she says candidly, “the 12-year-old girl who can’t look herself in the mirror.”

Whether parent or president, child or adult, it’s hard to be a “grown up,” to be a mature adult, let alone a mature adult Christian, day after day after day. It’s the hardest work we’ll ever choose to do. Actually Christians don’t have to like doing the work of “growing up into…Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). We just need to do it. The good news is that, if we want to be more intelligent, help is available. We just have to ask others, especially the Holy Other, for help, and stop insisting we can do things all by ourselves.

Emotional intelligence is about questions: How ready, willing and able am I to look at myself? A mature adult will make the time and effort daily to look at the man or the woman in the mirror. A mature adult of faith sees a reflection of an imperfect imago Dei, a very human image of God, a real human being. And mature Christian adults who want to journey with Jesus will love the person they see in that mirror – and won’t hesitate to ask others for help. Every day I try to ask myself these questions. Some days I do better with these questions than others. My prayer is that, together and with God’s help, we keep asking these questions, growing more fully into the full stature of Christ.


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