Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Shevat 5761 - January 31, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Emotional Intelligence

by Chaim Walder

Last week we wrote about the danger in sharp verbal assaults and about the enormous role of harsh words in the creation of emotional problems in children and youth.

However, there is an additional aspect of verbal assault: the educational angle and its role in the formation of the soul.

As the body is adversely influenced by external physical contact, so is the soul influenced by emotional contact, by words, and even by facial expressions.

When a child sees his parents reacting in a calculated manner to a problem, he learns to react similarly to affronts. When the soul grows accustomed to outbursts of sinister anger as a reaction to behavior to which a parent or teacher disapproves, it learns to react that way in its own attempts to cope.

People react in different ways to events. A person who comes home and finds his house a mess can chose from a number of possible reactions: a) to ignore the mess; b) to comment on the mess with a smile; c) to begin to clean the house himself and in that way to hint that he is dissatisfied; d) to express restrained anger over the mess.

All these are more or less normal reactions.

However, a certain type of person cannot make choices. When someone like that encounters something he does not like he (or she) loses his free choice: this type of person loses hold of the brakes and feelings and behaves without self- control, all in front of their children and students.

I have intentionally chosen an extreme, rare example. In the realm of the loss of self-control there are many levels, all of which are referred to in psychological jargon as "flooding." Certain people are flooded by negative feelings such as pain, anger, jealousy and disappointment that cause them to behave irrationally.

The ability to make correct use of the link between intelligence and feeling has recently been defined as "emotional intelligence."

These ideas were expressed thousands of years ago, in the dictum, "derech eretz kodmoh laTorah" and have been carefully delineated in our mussar books. In recent years, without realizing it, science has taken an additional step towards those guidelines by which the Jewish Nation has lived for thousands of years.

If in recent times people were classified according to their IQs, it is clear to everyone today that this isn't the only yardstick with which to measure people, and actually isn't a yardstick at all. Highly talented people are sometimes unable to actualize their talents due to emotional disabilities. Companies, institutions, and even countries led by a talented person with emotional problems can collapse as a result of the person's inordinate and often irrelevant power struggles.

On the other hand, people with emotional intelligence -- those who know how to control their emotions and to take advantage of them for positive aims -- can head large enterprises even if they haven't finished high school.

Of course, the same is true with respect to managing one's household, which is no less difficult than managing a state. There are simple people with good personalities and self- restraint who live tranquil lives and raise good, easygoing children, while some talented people with personality disturbances cannot establish stable homes, because they crash on the shores along with their emotional storms.

Every teacher or educational advisor who comes in contact with children and youngsters can pinpoint behavioral patterns which have been transferred from parents to their children: not genetic, but educational patterns. A child whose father reacts to difficulties by becoming depressed or introverted will react the same way. A child who sees steady outbursts of anger in his home as reactions to problems will also react that way.

A child who sees his father making excuses for the neighbor although the neighbor spoke disrespectfully to him, will learn how to put aside personal feelings and react in an appropriate manner. A child whose parents behave with tolerance and self-restraint will be tolerant and restrained. The child whose parents have a mature attitude to their surroundings, communicate normally, are honest in their business dealings, truthful and genial, will also be mature, honest and affable.

If we want our children to be emotionally normal, we must try to create a situation in which they will see normal functioning: the correct balance between intellect and emotion, a separation between the "person" and the subject at hand, objectivity in relation to events or fights and abstention from them.

Take for example, the issue of mitzvah observance and yiras Shomayim. Regarding such things, it is wrong to be objective, because then the soul learns to look at mitzvos in a cold, analytic manner, as if man were given a choice whether to observe one mitzvah or another. On this issue, we are obligated to train our children in a subjective manner and to cause them to channel all their feelings toward Hashem, Torah study and mitzvah observance. In these matters, inner warmth fashions one's Yiddishkeit, and is a necessary condition of the maintenance of our faith until eternity.

In order to fashion children with normal behavioral patterns -- children who aren't difficult, nervous, fresh, or lacking in self-control -- we must make certain that their souls are fashioned in a normal manner and that our own personal conduct, between man and his fellow and man and his surroundings, is normal. If there is softness, calm, courtesy and self-control in a home, children won't know how to behave otherwise. But even if the house is a bit stormy and the people inside it know how to get angry a bit, how to cry a bit and laugh a lot, that is still considered to be a normal house, full of life.

Emotional intelligence doesn't mean emotional perfection. Rather, it is the correct balance between intelligence and emotion, between events and how to react to them. It means balancing the intensity of the reaction, its frequency, and cultivating an inner feeling of how to act under all circumstances: when to be warm and when to display a certain degree of rigidity; when to give others the feeling that they have vanquished you and when to stand up for one's own side; when to be angry and when to pretend to be angry.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to accept criticism and to know when, if at all, to dole it out. It is the inner voice that tells one when to forgo and when to draw the line; when to make a friend and when the friendship becomes stifling; what one should demand from oneself and what one may demand from his fellow and how to do it.

Emotional intelligence doesn't guarantee that one won't err, but it is a guarantee that one will admit his errors and learn from them. It doesn't do away with one's faults, but gives one the power to transform them into advantages.

We must strive to be perfect, but we have to be at peace in our souls, balanced and self-controlled.

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