By Theo Winter
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”
— the twitter user @debihope (according to Quote Investigator)
Alright. (*Rubs hands together vigorously.*)
Let’s talk about why other people suck.
Apologies in advance if this gets a little ranty.
Please enjoy my critique of 3 things indicating why other people (but not me) are low on the emotional intelligence scale.
Rebecca: “It’s upside down.” Mr Squiggle: “Everything is these days.”
— Mr. Squiggle (Australian children’s television series)
It’s Hazardous to Even Discuss the Topic of Emotion This comes first for a very straightforward reason: if the thought of discussing emotions leads to bums shifting uncomfortably in their seats, how in the holy heck do you imagine that We the People are going to evolve into full-fledged emotionally mature human beings?
We ain’t, that’s how.
Self-development, at its core, comes down to different varieties of emotional development, and the most basic prerequisite of emotional development is honest and open engagement with the subject in question. Emotions. Soft, fluffy, icky, gooey, mushy emotions. While the business world has developed an extensive euphemist vocabulary over the decades to camouflage the blatantly obvious fact that a focus on feelings, kindness, and icky-sticky tender-heartedness are essential to keeping employees and customers in a positive exchange loop, my own view is that you should just call a spade a spade, as John Malkovich’s character does in The New Pope series when he says, “We only have one problem. I don’t know of any other. The problem is love.”
It’s sometimes said that the reason why we have so much chaos in the world is that we “love things and use people,” instead of “use things and love people.” When we can’t speak plainly about the very substance that sustains (and arguably defines) human life — we do indeed have things upside down.
“No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it is actually more important in the making of a leader. You just can't ignore it.”
— Jack Welch
The “Soft and Fluffy” Side of Business is Not Just Ignored, But Actively Disparaged The industrial age accounting paradigm that gives credence only to hard, quantifiable metrics (e.g., profit, cash flow, return on equity, growth) has dominated business thinking for well over 200 years, hitting its peak with “shareholder primacy” in the 1980s. This logic is both completely understandable and increasingly obsolete.
As emphasis has shifted to customer experience, engagement, culture, and leadership competence as defining competitive advantages, new expectations have formed. Talented individuals flock to people-first companies, just as customers appear more willing to withdraw support from profit-without-a-conscience companies.
Whatever commentary might be made on the deeper psychological issues masking an attack on soft skills development, the individual who disparages the “soft and fluffy” side of enterprise shows, at the very least, a serious lack of strategic awareness. And those people suck. Like, I mean, literally; they will suck the life right out of you, call it business, and leave you languishing as a soulless, zombie corpse creature, another rank and file member of the legion of darkness. I don't want you to feel like I'm asking a leading question but Dear child, is that what you want to become?! Well, is it?!!!
“It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more 'manhood' to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind.”
― Alex Karras
Showing Emotion is Seen as Weakness (Especially When Said Emotion is Tagged with the Opposite Gender) Ah, yes. The good ol’ classic “showing emotion = weakness.” There are quite a few unhelpful ideas firmly fixed in cultural circulation affecting both men and women’s attitudes towards emotion. Where to begin?
For men, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion are often equated with weakness; for women, historically there has often been a social cost to expressing anger and displaying dominant, assertive-like qualities, double standards which have started coming to the fore in our current cultural conversation. This doesn’t mean that falling to pieces at the first hurdle ought to be celebrated, nor am I suggesting that Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada) is really just a misunderstood leadership role model. Asshole behaviour is asshole behaviour, regardless of gender, race, position, follower count, or gorgeous hair style.
If I am fundamentally a proponent of anything on this planet it is less stupidity and less suffering (especially less stupid suffering) — which includes, for example, not commending emotionally stunting behaviour as heroic and also trying not to confuse the pretence of “toughness" with actual strength. That task isn’t always clear-cut or easy; which I think is important to stress. But then, it doesn’t strike me as particularly caring or courageous to blindly carry out the social dogmas and marching orders of long dead people who weren’t strong enough or bothered enough to question the legitimacy, damage, and long-term effects that their parent’s parent’s beliefs will have on you or your children’s children regarding what a “real” man looks like or how a “good” woman ought to behave.
Compassion, courage, acknowledging your limitations, admitting errors, changing your mind, asking for help, exposing your humanity — these things do not make you less of a person. They do not even make you a gender. They make you human. In many cases, they are the active ingredient in making you an awesome human to be around and to work alongside. They are precisely what people have been crying out for from leaders in business and politics, at least way far back as I can remember, and I expect the demand is only likely to intensify as we continue to be starved of accurate, honest visions of our true selves.
On a slightly more serious personal note, in recent years I have largely stopped following popular culture and politics more broadly, so I didn’t catch any of the recent Oscars talk except for some leadership commentary that broke into my bubble on Joaquin Phoenix. “I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes,” he says in his acceptance speech for best actor before adding: “But for me, I see commonality… human beings at our best are so inventive and creative and ingenious, and I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop, and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment." He goes on to say that he’s been selfish and cruel at times, hard to work with, and a grateful second-chance recipient: “I think that’s when we’re at our best: when we support each other. Not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow. When we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption.”
The comment struck me as fundamentally decent, and something I would like to see more of as I find myself increasingly drawing away from rather than being engaged by “a culture intolerant of duality,” as my favourite and not-quoted-here-often-enough blogger Maria Popova says, “where we hasten to polarise everything into good and bad, unfailingly placing ourselves in the former category and the Other — whether their otherness is manifested in race, gender, orientation, or sports team preference — in the latter.”
I’m not sure to what degree self-righteous finger-pointing permeates my writing, if I often or only sometimes give that impression, but I think less “they suck, but not me” Othering on my part wouldn’t entirely go astray. Umm, you know, on my next blog post… not this one. As for weird and questionable humour, there will be no cessation of frivolities.