The Emotionally Intelligent Person

Today I add another entry to the long list of “things I wish I had written” with this excerpt on emotional intelligence by author and philosopher, Alain de Botton. I have not read the book from which this passage comes but I have read most of his other works and I will be adding this to the library soon. If it is as good as I suspect it will be, I may have no choice but to buy a bunch of copies for colleagues, family and friends.
There is a lot of competition these days for the title of “most important thing we should focus on.” These are the big, scary things like climate change, political reform, education, healthcare…the list is all too familiar. I am confident in making the argument – more confident now, bolstered by Mr. Botton’s words – that none of these, none of them, will ever be effectively addressed if we do not have a seismic shift in our shared ability to practice emotional intelligence.

Please read on and be sure to visit the links below.

“Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at math; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness….

The emotionally intelligent person knows that love is a skill, not a feeling, and will require trust, vulnerability, generosity, humor, sexual understanding, and selective resignation.

The emotionally intelligent person awards themselves the time to determine what gives their working life meaning and has the confidence and tenacity to try to find an accommodation between their inner priorities and the demands of the world.

The emotionally intelligent person knows how to hope and be grateful, while remaining steadfast before the essentially tragic structure of existence.

The emotionally intelligent person knows that they will only ever be mentally healthy in a few areas and at certain moments, but is committed to fathoming their inadequacies and warning others of them in good time, with apology and charm… There are few catastrophes, in our own lives or in those of nations, that do not ultimately have their origins in emotional ignorance.”

– Alain de Botton, from The School of Life: An Emotional Education, as featured in Maria Popova’s wonderful weekly offering, Brainpickings.

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Regularly, Deeply Embarrassed

“Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.”

– Alain de Botton

The post office was a mess today. Because, well, December 14.

I knew it as soon as I entered the parking lot and someone swooped into the spot that was clearly mine. That’s right! Mine!

The line for counter service was out the door and the line for self-service was shorter but disorganized and chaotic. A man leaving the store started blathering about how even though he’s a proud liberal democrat he still hates the government, his post office experience wringing out the last of his tolerance.

I didn’t even need to be there. Not really. The post office is located next to the library, a place I did need to go today and since I was close by I stopped in to mail an oversized envelope and buy some stamps. Nothing urgent and a big mistake.

One of the things that defines my own craziness is my flat refusal to bail out on lost cause situations like this one. I finish things, even when it makes no sense to do so (from a common sense, maintaining sanity perspective,  that is). The thought of having wasted the trip, the time, the energy…to park, to walk, to wait…it annoys me so much that I just don’t and won’t.

And the recorder in my head plays out the same call and response soundtrack every time: What is everyone’s problem? Why are you doing this to yourself? Why is everyone so awkward, slow and unprepared? Take a breath, welcome the opportunity for patience and understanding. I would happily be patient and understanding if this place weren’t a complete mess. I should just go. I’m not leaving until I get what I came for, etc.

This stubborn “stick it out at all cost” attitude isn’t my only brand of crazy, of course. I’ve written recently about my compulsion to make sure my car is pointed in the direction I’ll be going next; I must have the dishwasher loaded a certain way, my shirts folded a certain way; and for all of that anal retentiveness I will regularly complete things so quickly (so efficiently I tell myself) that I make and miss easily correctable mistakes. Yes, “regularly and deeply embarrassed.”

This is a great time of year to get in touch with your own crazy. Every anxiety is heightened, every situation more compressed, every responsibility hard up against the clock that tells us that the year is done. It’s a perfect time to take stock, feel a little embarrassed by our self-importance (not ashamed, mind you, but embarrassed) and have a self-deprecating laugh at it all.

I know that self-knowledge comes at a steep price. It is never found in the discount bin or the holiday close-out pile. It is always marked at full MSRP and it never, ever, includes free shipping or free returns. That’s the bad news.

The good news it that it’s always a perfect fit and is worth every penny you pay for it.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.



You can’t do it. It’s impossible. Enough already. Please. Just. Stop.

You cannot be perfect.

You cannot be a perfect mother or father, son or daughter, girlfriend or boyfriend, boss or employee, colleague or collaborator, friend or teacher or innovator or anything…you just can’t.

So, please stop expecting that of yourself. And stop expecting it from others.

Your life, your work will be so much richer, so much more fulfilling, so much more productive, so, so much happier if you focus instead on forgiveness.

{Hat tip to Alain de Botton and Krista Tippett for this conversation}

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.