There was once a samurai warrior. In his lifetime he had killed many men in battle. One day he started wondering whether he would go to heaven or hell. Looking for an answer he went in search of a famous Zen Master. After a long and arduous journey he came face to face with the [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Heaven or hell, it’s inside you

Dr. Raveen Hanwella discusses the importance of managing one’s emotions

There was once a samurai warrior. In his lifetime he had killed many men in battle. One day he started wondering whether he would go to heaven or hell. Looking for an answer he went in search of a famous Zen Master. After a long and arduous journey he came face to face with the Master. He was not impressed because he looked like a simple peasant. However, having travelled so far he decided to ask him the question, “Is there a heaven and hell and if so how could I get to heaven and avoid hell?” The Master asked, “Who are you?”

The warrior replied, “I am the chief samurai warrior of Japan and I work for the emperor.” The Master laughed and said, “You are an ill bred lout, go away and don’t waste my time.” The warrior was very angry and pulled out his sword to kill the Master. “Stop” said the Master, “this is hell.” The warrior slowly sheathed his sword. “And that my son” said the Master, “is heaven.”

The warrior had learnt an important lesson. Being angry is hell and to be able to master your emotions is heaven. Heaven and hell is inside you and it’s your choice as to whether you spend your time in heaven or hell.

Daniel Goleman, psychologist, science journalist and author in 1995 published a book called Emotional Intelligence which remained on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 18 months. In it he put forward the view that emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important than IQ and that though IQ cannot be changed EQ in people could be improved with training. EQ can be defined as the ability to identify, assess and control emotion in oneself, in others and in groups.

Psychologist Peter Salovey who recently became the President of Yale University along with John Mayer is credited with developing the concept of emotional intelligence. Salovey and Mayer defined emotional intelligence as “…the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions”. They classified EQ into five areas or domains: The awareness of one’s emotions, the ability to manage one’s emotions, the ability to recognise emotions in others, the ability to regulate emotions in others, and the ability to use emotion to motivate one’s self.

Let us have a more detailed look at each of these abilities. The ability to monitor our feelings is important to understand ourselves. People who are not in touch with their feelings respond without thinking to their emotions. This could have disastrous consequences especially if the emotions are negative. For example a driver who gets angry may afterwards drive dangerously without realising he is angry. Being self-aware of one’s mood is technically known as metamood or mindfulness. Mindfulness therapy is now in vogue as a treatment for depression.

To be self-aware people should be able to step back from themselves and observe their emotions dispassionately.  “Give me that man, that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him, in my heart’s core” said Shakespeare in Hamlet. The ability to master one’s emotions has been appreciated as a virtue since the time of ancient Greece. The ability to keep one’s emotions from extremes is indeed a useful ability and one that has been found to be independent of IQ. This does not imply an ability to show a bland perpetually smiling face, but the skill to keep strong unpleasant feelings in check and not allow them to completely displace all pleasant emotions.

One of the most destructive of such feelings is anger. Teaching people to control anger or anger management is an important component of psychological therapy. Psychologist Dolf Zillman, a pioneer in anger management research, advocates two main ways of dealing with anger. The first is to take note of the thoughts that provoked the anger in the first place and reappraise the thoughts. For example if you get angry with a driver who cut in front of you, your first thought may be that he is doing it deliberately or he is inconsiderate. But if you were to think that, maybe he was distracted and did not really mean to cut in front of you, the anger would get less. Which assumption is actually true does not matter. The timing is important, if you allow the anger to escalate too much it would not be possible to think logically.

The second method is the traditional ‘cooling off’. If for example, you have got into an angry argument with a person, you should leave the situation temporarily.This will not work if after leaving the situation, you continue to ruminate on the issue that led to the argument. In fact if you were to do this, the anger would increase rather than decrease. During the cooling off period it is best to distract yourself with different, more pleasant thoughts. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation and exercise would also help.

The third attribute of EQ is the ability to recognise emotions in others. This could also be called social awareness. It is the capacity to understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people and pick up on emotional cues. Alexithymics are people who lack this capacity. Not only do they not understand their own feelings but they lack the capacity to know what people around them are feeling. The difficulty with understanding how other people feel is that most of our feelings are communicated not directly but by nonverbal channels such as tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions. People good at reading such nonverbal cues tend to be more empathic than others. By focusing on others, making eye contact and paying careful attention to nonverbal cues we can improve this ability in ourselves.

The fourth EQ skill is the ability to manage emotions in others or in other words the ability to manage relationships. This is the ability that makes people popular, good leaders and excellent managers.This skill is in a way an integration of the previous three skills. After all people who are aware of their own feelings, can control their feelings and are able to recognise emotions are likely to be better at managing relationships. Some other skills have been recognised to contribute. These are organisational skills or the ability to network with people, negotiating skills or a talent in arbitrating or mediating disputes, and social analysis, the ability to detect people’s feelings motives and concerns.

The fifth skill mentioned by Salovey is the ability to use one’s emotions to motivate one’s self. This is the skill that is present in all world class athletes who put in hours and hours of practice day in and day out to reach the top. The emotional quality of persistence and resolve in the face of setbacks set apart people who succeed in life from those who started out with a lot of advantages but yet fail.
Long ago Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics summed up emotional intelligence, using anger as the example, in these words.

“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 purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy”. And the good news is that EQ, emotional intelligence can be improved in any person provided the person is willing to put in the effort and time.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.