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Emotional IQs are in the eye of the beholder

I logged in today to a last checkup on the "nonpassive things to do..." thread. There being no new followups, I concluded that the thread had run its very pleasant course, and there'd be no need to check it later, to make sure that I hadn't missed any good ideas.

I couldn't help but miss a thread title called "EQ", a followup to the "intolerant fallacy" thread. One of my new year's resolutions was to try to avoid looking at things that might irritate me. Doing so helps keep my blood pressure lower, and the resulting good mood enhances my productivity.

So, when I see a thread title like this, that fairly screams that a good deal of arrogance is about to follow, I do my best to ignore it. Now, in all fairness, I haven't read the man's post, so none of what follows should be taken as a flame of him. For all I know, I could have completely misread the situation, and he could be talking about John or Bill's emotional quotient. Here, the attitude I'm speaking of is one that I've seen around, not one I'm specifically attributing to him.

"EQ" is a term used for emotional quotient, coined by those who felt that the word "maturity" didn't sound pretentious enough. OK, that was slightly flippant, but it had a degree of truth in it. I've found that as a concept, it is most often used to make an argument that is little more than a verbose elaboration on the words "oh yeah", sound like it speaks with authority. The problem, for many of those who love this concept, has been, in the past, that their favorite mode of debate has been to shower disrespect on the reasoning abilities of their opponents, and when those opponents are visibly brighter than them, this attempt begins to look rather absurd, if not pathetic.

Here is where the concept of EQ comes in handy for some. If one is feeling a little inadequate, not to worry. Just declare, feeling no need to offer anything more than an assertion as an argument, that even if your opponent is "intellectually smarter", you're "emotionally smarter". In fact, some go so far as to try to argue that one implies the other, and many others, not so blunt, always seem to honor the connection anyway. Doing nothing more, really, than wrapping up traditional anti-intellectual hostility in the trendy rhetoric of the pop psychology movement.

The silliest application comes when a protest lodged against an unjust practice, and the 'insight' is offered that if the person had better coping skills, an aspect of EQ, he wouldn't complain. Well, if someone came up to me, and started whacking me on the head with a mallet, would silence on my part be a sign of a strong head, or an empty one? Just because one can cope, that doesn't mean that one should want to. The failure to recognise this fact, when one is subjected to abuse, is what makes one a doormat.

Almost as silly is the response of some of our elders when, in defense of the practice of shutting down places where we can meet, have said that if we had decent social skills, we'd have no trouble meeting people. (Another facet of EQ). Ignoring the fact that ability only allows you to make use of the opportunities that exist. If there aren't any, it does you no good, despite the vacuous cliche that one should "make one's own opportunities". Why that isn't a practical option, has already been explained. If you had a chance to establish your social network before society closed up here, you are in a much different situation that someone who entered the system later. That network provides further opportunities to meet people in a comfortable setting. Namely, that provided by a gathering of those you already know.

But you have to have been allowed the opportunity to have built it up in the first place. It's kind of like the difference between entering the job market when entry level jobs are still available, and doing so after they've disappeared. Those already in the system do OK. Those who aren't, have been locked out. There is nothing less endearing than encountering someone, who, having been allowed opportunities denied to others, views his good fortune as a personal accomplishment, instead of what it is. The blessings that come with a relatively privileged status.

When a justification is attempted, though never achieved, the argument is that the unhappiness of the person in question proves his immaturity. Ignoring the fact that "happy" and "well adjusted" aren't synonomous. There's no one happier than a pothead, but I have yet to hear anyone argue that steady marijuana use is the secret to good mental health, outside of the Hemp society. A clearheaded individual who encounters mistreatment may feel a great deal of sorrow as a result. If he buries that sorrow deeply, by refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem to solve, he denies himself the chance to solve it. Worse still, since burying a negative emotion does not make it go away, he will have replaced a well defined difficulty with a vague dissatisfaction that he has forgotten the cause of. Doing so may make some of the more selfish people around him more comfortable, but it will do nothing positive for him, the delusions of a Norman Vincent Peale notwithstanding. It isn't healthy.

If the acknowledgement of sorrow is a simple refusal to attempt to delude oneself, the willingness to accept the reality of one's anger is an acceptance of one's right to do something about the harm that the unjust acts of others inflict on one. Anger is nature's way of giving one the strength that one needs to stand up for oneself effectively. It is for just this reason that those who would demand docile compliance out of others, to unreasonable demands, are so fond of the belief that anger is a pathology that one needs to outgrow. Nonsense. Without it, freedom itself becomes impossible.

Here in Chicago, as in much of the US, we live in a place where a lazy alcoholic who is upset that he can't find someone else to buy beer for him, is considered "one of society's victims", when, in fact, the only thing that he's a victim of, is his own drinking binges. Great compassion is shown to those who've declined to do anything constructive with their lives, but who have, instead, decided to live at the expense of others. However, if a student, who has been willing to work quite hard in order to develop the skills needed to become a productive member of society, expresses the very modest wish to be able to afford food and shelter without having to agree to being used as a guinea pig for the testing of experimental medication, for example, try to find some of the same compassion that was shown the bum. It isn't there to be found.

What we see is an absolutely vicious bigotry directed against those who are smarter, or more capable, or accomplished than their neighbors. In decades past, before I and my classmates were born, the derogatory term "egghead" was popular in some circles. If the openness of the attitude has diminished, the viciousness and the pervasiveness of the attitude have not. Job discrimination, open hostility, even violence - all are quite common here, and frequently come in response to any sign that you know a little more than those around you.

And there are the little, underhanded things that so quickly teach you that "regular people" aren't to be trusted in this region. Like when one of my classmates went rafting, with the assurance of a local camp director that the river she was rafting on was perfectly safe. In actuality, it was a notorious maze of whirlpools, which the locals knew about, but an out of towner wouldn't. The director thought it was really funny that "that college girl" was sucked under to her death. A jury of those "decent average folks" had no problem with this. (This happened in Southern Indiana).

The only plausible alternative offered, to date, to this having been a case of violent anti-intellectual bigotry, was that it was anti-youth instead. Like the Camp Northstar business. In this case, parents were encouraged to send their kids to a "wilderness survival camp", where a reenactment of the Bataan death march occured, complete with fatalities, as part of the fun. The only charge filed was one of reckless endangerment, the same charge made if a parent leaves a child home alone. The facts weren't disputed. A one year suspended sentence for the directors is all that occured. Some of us, I guess, are a little more human than others, and if you were born later than 1960, the pattern of enforcement has suggested that you're considered to be a little less human than everyone else. How odd that some of us would mind.

(An ex-girlfriend was one of the survivors of the above episode).

If someone is even half awake, and finds that he and those close to him are being subjected to this kind of abuse, unhappiness and more than a little anger are healthy, and natural reactions. It is absolutely bizarre that people will argue that the cheerful sadist who abuses another is OK, and "just doing his own thing", while his suffering victim is being immature, if he minds. Or rather, that if he was mature enough, he wouldn't be suffering in the first place. As if each may realistically be expected to exert control over, and rightly be judged by, that which is done to him by others, rather than that which he does himself. An attitude that makes it easy to confuse privilege with accomplishment, and even switch one for the other, the unqualified executive who is hired because of personal connections being considered "accomplished", while the physician who builds up his own practice is considered "privileged" - often by the same person ! Or that the substance abuser who gets himself fired for not showing up at work is a "victim", while the qualified applicant who isn't even allowed to fill out an application at the same place is a "bum" !

The attitude that being educated obliges one to live the life of a slave is just the latest in a long, dishonorable tradition.

And, ultimately, a self destructive one for the place that indulges in it. No, not because those were put on, might see fit to put what they have learned to harmful use. That would go against the grain, though sufficient provocation might make some forget that.

No, the most "vengeful" thing that most of us have considered doing is leaving, to seek a better life elsewhere. If enough of us do this, the local area will start looking a lot like much of the third world.

Again, let's think about this. Someone needs something from me. He then proceeds to make my life so unpleasant, that I decide to move to somewhere more pleasant, leaving him in the lurch - but whose fault is that? He then complains about my immaturity, apparently believing that true maturity consists of a willingness to give him whatever he wants, on bended knee.

What could possibly be more immature than abusing people whose help one needs to get by, and then expecting them to take no notice of the fact, and stick around for more, so that they can spend every waking moment doing what one wants them to do?

There's a phrase for someone with that expectation. He's called a "spoiled brat".

Now, if that post WAS a flame sent in my direction, after I had openly announced my departure for the summer, I'd have to say, "What a cowardly act". I was on line for days after that thread went up, but someone would wait until now to respond to it? Hmmm. How brave.

Facts are facts, though, like it or not. A city that drives its most highly skilled residents away, while exalting its least productive, is carving out a very unpleasant future for itself. Copping an attitude about it won't change the fact, and being openly arrogant about it will only drive people further off into the distance.

As for the social skills of the "nerds".....I've had occasion to socialise outside of my own circle, and I've also seen how my own peers do, when people leave them alone, and let them be themselves. And on balance, the "nerds" do a lot better. The parties are livelier, the relationships are warmer and healthier, the conversations more interesting. While the Frat boys sit around and get drunk, occasionally molesting a cheerleader. Oh, if only we all could be that cool....... so cool, that we need smileys to tell us when someone is putting us on.

This is not a matter of some dark, hidden conspiracy holding most people down, but one of capacity. The more one can think of, the more one can talk about, and the closer you and your friends can become, because you have more to share. Nothing has been "stolen" from those around you.

People don't like to hear that. They want to believe that if one aspect of a person's life is more pleasant, the others must automatically be worse. Petty spite and jealousy sometimes makes it so, but it is not so on its own.

Waaaeelllll....Now that I have nothing to check up on, I won't be back until the cold weather hits.

Let me part, since someone is bound to talk about how anger only hurts the person feeling it, with a post I did about how the new PhDs, facing bleak job markets in some fields, responded to the fact that they had had been lured in by studies that had given a fraudulent portrayal of the job prospects in their fields. It makes specific a distinction that some of the more fashionable commentary glosses over.

Someone in one of the technical career discussion forums, in response to something I wrote, said

" If people sound a bit bitter at times, I don't think they can be blamed too much after working their a**es off for years (or decades) and not even having a steady job to show for it."

In response, I would say the following.

If someone entered his field at a time when the job opportunities in his field were being portrayed in an inaccurately rosy light, and he found himself without job prospects at the end of the process, I would be the last to suggest that he shouldn't mind. But, you know, there's more than one way to be angry.

Hypothetical situation. One student spreads false rumors about another behind his back in such a way as to harm the other's standing in the department.

Suppose that the student, on finding this out, sets the record straight, and has it out with the offending individual, and then doesn't even think about until many years later, when he's on the guy's tenure granting committee. "Oh, I remember you. You're that slimebag who....", and he sees to it that the offending individual is turned down. And, rightfully so. People like that shouldn't be allowed to advance, they do too much damage given the opportunity. Besides, justice is finally done. Point here is, while he didn't feel some trendy need to "let go of" his anger, and in the process, let his victimiser off the hook, his life and happiness weren't in any way harmed during the intervening years by the fact that some day, he would call this guy to account.

That's one way of staying angry at someone, or bitter about something. The anger is more of an opinion about what is right, than a passion about it, and isn't reimbued with that passion until a time arises when one can act in a meaningful way on that anger, and the passion will give one the strength to do so effectively. Not to mention, the ability to feel vindication and the full release and dissipation of that anger fully, and to find relief.

All told, a lot healthier than simply pretending that one's just anger simply isn't there, and allowing it to fester. People who do that have a way of turning passive aggressive, or simply mean. The anger that they try to ignore doesn't simply vanish, but instead finds a way out, pouring out over some innocent bystander who just happened to be nearby at the wrong time, and ends up suffering unjustly because of another person's wrongs. That's unfair, and it doesn't even have to be done deliberately for it to occur. One's very sense of right and wrong might be so distorted that what truly is objectionable, might seem fair. Ever been around someone whose day has been much too hard? You know the kind of behavior to expect. Bury some real anger as deeply as some would have you, and you may be that guy every day, the only difference being, that your hostility would be concealed behind a facade of cheerfulness that eventually even fools you. The hostility finding expression through unduly harsh judgements, a tendency to try to talk people into doing things that you should know aren't in their best interests, but somehow, you don't just never think about fully before speaking first, and so on. In the Midwest, we even have an expression for that. We call it being "sweetly venomous".

No, I wouldn't advocate that sort of thing. But, like I said, there's more than one way of being angry.

Suppose that, instead, he dwelt on the wrong done him during the intervening years, when he couldn't do anything about it, and worked himself up into an impotent rage that could find no release. Who has he punished but himself? He'd have no energy left for anything else, and ironically enough, by crippling himself in this fashion, denying himself the peace of mind that he needed to work productively, he'd guarantee that he'd never gain enough influence to be able to see to it that justice was done. By allowing himself to be consumed by his rage, he would eternally shield the only one who warranted it from its effects. People who do this habitually, turn into those crazy old men who stay cooped up in their apartments, and who everyone steers well clear of.

Someone's bound to write in at this point, and say "Joe, you're taking this a little far. Nobody here has embraced that sort of thing." No? Let's talk about that.

If someone back in the 1980s entered one of these fields, lured in under false pretenses, and found himself in an awkward position as a result, like I said, sure, he should mind. But seven years have passed since then. What has he tried to do with his life since then? I see people just sitting there, stewing, complaining about how unjust it is that they would be expected to learn a skill that IS marketable after all of the work that they've done already, and refusing to do so. Society owes them more consideration, they seem to think, so they'll just sit there, and refuse to budge until..... I'm not sure what. They don't expect society to employ them in the field that they have trained in, and yet they won't train in another. What they expect to accomplish by this refusal, I can't imagine, but they just sit there, and seeth online, launching into a vicious personal attack on anyone who dares to suggest a way out. I do speak from personal experience. I've been here before.

So who do they hurt? They sit there, willing to do nothing to improve their own situations but scream at preople about them, while years and years of what should be the best part of their lives go by without them. All to make a point that I just can't fathom.

So, if someone takes this tack, and asks, "Does society have the right to ask me to study yet more than I already have?", I'll agree, no, it doesn't, it's inhuman, what has already been asked of these students. "So, do I owe society that kind of effort?", one of them might ask. No, I would respond, but you do owe yourself that kind of effort. Just giving up and dying like that is a choice that I really can't respect.

I wish that it wasn't made so often.

Closing Comment

Previously, I wrote that an acknowldgement of one's own anger was,

"all told, a lot healthier than simply pretending that one's just anger simply isn't there, and allowing it to fester. People who do that have a way of turning passive aggressive, or simply mean."

I hope that I've made myself clear enough on this one, but in case I haven't....

I'm not saying that if someone finds his anger dissipating of its own accord, that he should necessarily work to hold onto it. What I object to is the sort of suppression that sometimes occurs when someone feels that he is morally obligated to offer forgiveness that won't come naturally. You'll look at someone, and he'll be gritting his teeth, or rolling his eyes, and you can tell that he's fighting to suppress his anger, which may be well justified.

In telling himself that he's not going to be angry any more because its not all right to be that way, he chooses to live a lie. He'll still have anger to deal with, he'll just forget why it's there, and who he's really angry with. This is where the meanness comes from. That free floating, undirected anger can affix itself to anything. Why the creation of such an undesirable state of affairs should be considered a virtuous act, is a mystery to me. To make such an act habitual would seem even worse.

The trendiness of this sort of action during the 1980s probably does a lot to explain the large amount of petty spite that is so easy to find today.

If it is easy for one to forgive, and warranted, then by all means, do so. But if somewhere, down deep, that anger will remain, at least make sure that you know why its there. You owe that much to those around you.

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Anger and the EQ Fallacy