Best-selling authors Daniel Goleman and Tara Bennett-Goleman talk about the importance of emotional wisdom in the modern world. 

Omega: Is emotional intelligence something we’re born with? Are there practices we can do to build our emotional intelligence?

Daniel: Each of us, more or less, has some degree of natural, innate talent when it comes to emotional intelligence—we’re aware of our emotions and how they impact us; we can manage the difficult ones; we recognize how others feel; and we put all that together in handling relationships. But whether we develop our full emotional intelligence capacity gets left to chance. Tara and I focus on how to use mindfulness to overcome habits that block our ability to manage ourselves and our relationships as well as how to strengthen these personal and interpersonal abilities.

Omega: If everyone could wake up tomorrow and be a master of one social/emotional skill, which one would you want it to be?

Daniel: Within the emotional intelligence model, empathy. Our personal lives, relationships, and society at large would be richer and more satisfying if we all were better at attuning to the people around us.

Tara: In my model of modes, I would say discernment and insight, along with compassion and equanimity (or emotional balance).

Omega: As psychologists, which mystery of the human mind would you love to see solved?

Tara: We place so much emphasis on knowledge—like solving mysteries of the mind—but it’s when we reflect on and integrate what we are learning, and mingle it with our own discerning insight, that we can awaken the experience of wisdom.

Omega: You suggest it’s our emotional patterns that hold the key to changing unhealthy habits. What do you mean by that?

Tara: It’s not all about changing habits. Sometimes just being aware of experience can be enough. But if emotional patterns are operating, it’s helpful to understand their nature and recognize these patterns at play because they can be like invisible puppeteers of the mind, pulling our strings while hiding backstage. We can recognize them for what they are, rather than assuming that’s how things are. Mindful discernment trains the mind to perceive things more accurately.

Omega: What are some of the common characteristics you find among successful leaders?

Daniel: The most successful leaders I’ve encountered share a host of qualities: they are tuned to their own internal motivations and values and use these as guides in life and work. They are calm under pressure, keep going toward their goals despite obstacles, and keep a positive outlook. They know what the people around them are thinking and feeling, and they use all of these abilities to let those they lead feel guided, supported, trusted, and empowered.

Omega: How has your work with horses informed your understanding of human behavior and your approach to emotional healing?

Tara: I’ve been studying for years with a horse whisperer and have integrated the principles I’ve learned into my work with people. For example, prey animals (like horses) don’t single themselves out from the rest of the herd, but instead join up with a collective force that’s greater than any single individual. If we are predator-like, or controlling, we might get what we want but it might harm the connection. The way we humans think of ourselves as separate and in control of things must appear strange to a horse, but horses seem to accommodate our foolish ways, accept us anyway, and even find creative ways to remind us that we are really part of the herd. Herd dynamics can be a model for humans who work together in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation, and consider how the other person might be seeing the situation.


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