When I graduated high school in 1992, the only intelligence that seemed to matter was IQ (intelligence quotient). Most assumed that a person’s potential was largely indicated by how well they performed academically. Grades and SAT scores were seen as the best predictors of future success.
During the 1990s people increasingly questioned the reliability of IQ to predict success in the academy or the workplace. A new field of study focused on the effects of emotional intelligence, or EQ (emotional quotient). The term first appeared in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch but Daniel Goleman popularized emotional intelligence in his 1995 book after studying the work of psychologist John Mayer and Peter Salvoes. For many, EQ provided a missing link that helped explain why “people with the highest levels of intelligence (IQ) outperform those with average IQs just 20 percent of the time, while people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70 percent of the time” (Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, p8).
Over the past 20 years, EQ has become as common a term as IQ. You’ll find references to EQ in: workplace training programs, school curriculum, online dating sites, newspaper comic strips, and even advertising for children’s games. Corporations, school systems and religious organizations are developing social and emotional learning programs to increase productivity and create healthy communities.
Technically speaking, emotional intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to process emotional information (in themselves and others) and use it to navigate social relationships. While the term may be new, the core principles are not.
Our heavenly Father has been instructing us on the importance of emotional intelligence from the beginning. Long before the era of standardized tests, the Bible has provided God’s definition of wisdom which has always transcended knowledge or intellectual ability. Proverbs is a treasure trove for those seeking to grow in emotional intelligence. Consider three proverbs that contain timeless truths:
- “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a quick temper exalts folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)
- “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15)
- “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Proverbs 26:20)
An important aspect of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and distinguish between various emotions and then process through them. When confused or unable to navigate past certain feelings, read the Psalms. There, we meet experienced guides (sages of old with high EQs) who can help us find our way through the pain and darkness.
- “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:5)
- “My soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate my spirit faints. I cannot sleep. I am so troubled I cannot speak…Then my spirit made a diligent search: Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased?” (Psalm 77:2b-8)
- “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts. See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
Jesus is by far the best teacher to help us process emotional information (in ourself and others) and then use that information to navigate social relationships. Jesus’ ability to love others as himself made him a master at reading people’s emotional state. Even when people’s behavior masked their hidden attitudes, further conversation would almost always expose what was going on at the heart level. Whatever the issue – pride, self-pity, loneliness, desperation – Jesus’ counsel was always on target. We can learn a lot about emotional intelligence by knowing him.
Consider Jesus’ interactions with two rich men. In Luke 18, Jesus addresses the blinding nature of self-righteousness by challenging a rich young ruler about his self-awareness and moral self-judgement. When the man responds with self-pity rather than repentance Jesus declares “It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. Then in the next chapter Jesus notices another finely dressed rich man who, oddly enough, is perched in a sychamore tree. He wonders about the man who cast his dignity aside and girded his loins to climb a tree. So, Jesus offers him undeserved honor by saying, “Hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today.” In a moment the man is transformed. Without being asked he does what the first rich man could not bring himself to do – give away his wealth and follow Jesus. By comparing Jesus’ interaction with these two rich men, we can see that Jesus had a very high EQ. He knew the difference between a self-righteous man not ready to receive grace and a desperate man starving for it.
We should not be surprised that the Bible was (and continues to be) ahead of its time. If you want to improve you emotional intelligence read it for all its worth.