Do you ever get the feeling that you're the only one on the planet with feelings? Does it sometimes seem as though your life is at the mercy of your moods? Does everyone around you seem to be cruising along just fine with their emotional barrier up, making it difficult for you to connect with them, and leaving you feeling like there's something wrong with you? Do you feel out of place because you're a man, and men aren't supposed to have feelings; or do you feel that because you're a woman with feelings, you're playing second fiddle to the cold, hard men that rule the planet?
I can relate to these feelings sometimes, and with this in mind I recently tackled Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence. It seemed to me that the message I'd received from my family, my all-boys high school and my society at large while growing up was that emotions were a sign of weakness to be eliminated at all costs. I wasn't supposed to have feelings when I was a boy; and yet I still have them even now as a man. I've often felt deep down that there was something wrong with me as a result. Men were supposed to be emotionally invulnerable, but I'm not. I'd like to be. Other people seem to be; or are they just faking it? I often seem to be well-and-truly hijacked by my own feelings preventing me from doing what I really want. Surely by now I was supposed to be past all that; I'm not a kid any more, after all. Perhaps a little EQ would bring an answer to the quandary.
And I must say, it's a brilliant book. I've read reasonably widely on the area of self-development and the human mind, but until now I haven't come across another book which highlights the importance of emotion in the whole story so well. This book even uses the term hijacking to describe the scenario where our emotions leap up and take control of our conscious thoughts, explaining the biological processes in the brain responsible for it all, and how they are thought to have developed. This book manages to make sense of our emotions, and why they can be so dominant a force in our lives.
I was particularly fascinated by the discussion on the impact of emotional hijacking in relationship conflict. I can imagine otherwise destructive arguments being transformed into an opportunity for self-awareness when partners who both read this book followed the advice of forging a commitment to call time-out whenever either of them were experiencing a hijacking. The book also discusses why human emotions are contagious, a result of our innate empathic abilities thought to aid our survival in groups. It describes empathy as a key component of successful relationships even in the often emotionally sterile workplace, and suggests that business needs to get on the band wagon of ensuring the employee's emotional needs are being catered for if they want to reduce conflict and have employees who are as happy and productive as they can be.
Well, that's all great in theory; but what about the real world out there? I don't know about you, but I don't see any of the major influences in our world suddenly transforming into a harbinger of positive empathy. The media continue to show stories that pander to our deepest fears, and we keep buying them. We keep electing politicians who show little signs of emotional connectedness, and revel when the media attack the slightest vulnerability in their prefabricated personas. How can we expect to be real with each other on an emotional level when we continue to put efficacy over empathy every time?
I don't have a good answer to that, other than to say that the world would be a better place if more people understood the emotional mechanisms that drive us as described in this book. We can develop our own emotional intelligence, and surround ourselves with people whose emotional intelligence meets or exceeds our own so that their insight transfers to ourselves by osmosis.
Many of us walk around our entire lives unaware of how our emotions are directing our every move from deep in our subconscious. We're usually either seeking pleasant feelings or avoiding unpleasant ones; but both types are there to tell us something important that we often overlook. This book spells out what happens if we live emotionally disconnected lives, and encourages us to tune into our feelings and start being real. I think it's one of those books you just must read, and encourage the other people in your life to read, if you want to have a great life.