How could an extremely bright and introspective student be so easily defeated in life, hanging himself from a steel beam at a young age of 15? Trevor Ian Smith was a sophomore in Woodson High School, Virginia. Academically strong, he was taking courses such as Chemistry GT and was actively involved in the speech and debate team, being one of eleven students selected for the National Travel team. Yet amidst all the positive things in his life, he chose the wrong path and committed suicide. Why? Rejection from his girlfriend whom he pursued relentlessly triggered a most tragic event. It seems rather ironic and baffling that a person of obvious intelligence could act so irrational. But what is intelligence?
Intelligence is defined as a measure of one's mental ability. Often people associate intelligence with success. It is a wonder though why some people with high IQ fail while others with average IQ prosper in life; why some students are motivated to work harder after failing a test while others become discouraged; "why some people remain buoyant in the face of troubles that would sink a less resilient force" (Gibbs 62). The answer lies in one's emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a type of social intelligence that involves self-awareness, managing emotions, motivating oneself, empathy, and handling relationships. These factors, as "new brain research suggests, may be the true measure of human intelligence" (Gibbs 60).
Having a sense of self-awareness is the basis of emotional intelligence. A person stuck in a traffic jam for hours might get home feeling cranky without quite realising why. Being able to recognize a feeling as it happens involves an activated neocortex - the part of the brain where the highest level of thinking takes place such as reasoning decision-making, purposeful behaviour and voluntary motor control. Through this process in the neocortex, one is better able to identify his/her feelings and understand them. This realisation is a neutral mode as if "'being accompanied by a second self "“ a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles'". (qtd. in Goleman 47) Such self-awareness is crucial for self-reflectiveness and self-control, better able to handle an emotional response.
Managing emotions in an appropriate manner is counterpart to recognizing feelings. The key is balance "“ life with suppressed emotions is bland and dull; one with too much, unstable and tense. Emotions are unavoidable. What type of emotions one feels and when it comes are impossible to control. How one reacts is the difficult choice. As Aristotle simply claims, "'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 "“ that is not easy'" (qtd. in Gibbs 64).
Dealing with life's ups and downs is a daily part of life. Why is it though that some people are better at bouncing back while others dwell on negative emotions? People face and cope with emotions differently. With anger, the popular belief of ventillation builds rage. Ranting and raving simply gives one more "reasons and self-
justifications for being angry" (Goleman 60). Anger, a high-energy mood, should instead be calmed down for the mind to open, giving the situation a different and positive outlook. On the other hand, a low-energy mood such as sadness or discouragement should be dealt with high arousal states like exercising and socializing. The goal is "to shift to a state of arousal that breaks the destructive cycle of the dominant mood" (Gibbs 64).
Achieving a goal involves concentrating one's emotions for self-motivation. Olympic athletes and world-class musicians channel feelings of enthusiasm and confidence to reach success. Having discipline and delaying gratification play a major role as athletes and musicians follow strict training for years and years. But the true test comes when one encounters setbacks and challenges. Optimism, perhaps is the greatest motivator. The optimist sees failure as something they can overcome while the pessimist treats it as some weakness they have, thus further lowering his/her confidence to persist.
The ability to know how another feels is a fundamental "people skill". The importance of empathy is evident in many aspects of life, from friendship and romance to teaching and parenting, to sales and management. (Goleman 96) Being sensitive to another's feelings in a sense, is being able to read between the lines. What one says might not accord with how he/she says it. Nonverbal communication - tone of voice, gesture, facial expression, etc. makes up the major bulk of empathy. By being more attuned to subtle nonverbal cues and interactions, one is better able to understand what others want or need. People with this asset are sensitive and emotionally stable. They
openly take other's perspective and appreciate the difference in how other's feel, thus making them more popular and outgoing.
Handling relationships is an essential skill as human interactions are a daily part of one's life. This social skill involves managing other's emotions and having interpersonal intelligence. The secret ingredients for charm and social success are those who act as leaders, mediators, personal connectors, and social analysts. These are the people who can lead and organize, handle disputes, connect with others smoothly, and read other's feelings and reactions establishing intimacy and rapport. These people are social stars, being able "to shape an encounter, to mobilize and inspire others, to thrive in intimate relationships to persuade and influence, to put others at ease" (Goleman 113).
Emotional intelligence proves a more accurate determinant of one's success, contentment and effectiveness in one's life. This is not to say that mental intelligence does not play any role in one's life. But to learn the intelligence of emotions is what sets people apart. As in the business world, "IQ gets you hired, but EQ gets you promoted" (Gibbs 65). It would be scary to think that success is destined by an inherent ability, IQ, rather than an attainable one "“ intelligence that could be taught and learned throughout life.