From the US to Northern Ireland to post-Soviet Lithuania, healing personal and political conflict requires tremendous emotional intelligence. Three experts share their insights on how the political is personal. Each shares techniques for handling feelings and finding paths to unity during times of profound divisiveness.
Many people found the recent US election challenging, irrespective of who they supported. Some were surprised and dismayed by the election of Donald Trump, fearing his temperament makes him unfit to govern. Others felt buoyed by his promises to “make America great again.” Friendships have ended and families have divided over this election. There is a palpable sense of uncertainty about the future.
Equating temperament with emotional intelligence, or EQ, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, and now a University Professor at Harvard University, wrote: “Trump is deficient in emotional intelligence – the self-mastery, discipline, and empathic capacity that allows leaders to channel their personal passions and attract others.”
But as Daniel Shapiro, the leader of Harvard’s International Diplomacy program said, the key to resolving the most serious conflicts is using emotional intelligence to find common ground.
What can EQ teach us about healing division? How have citizens used their own EQ even when it is lacking in leaders? I asked three leaders in our network to reflect on how they have harnessed the power of emotional intelligence to build empathy and reconcile from past conflicts and wars. The Six Seconds Model is a powerful tool for peace-making — which feels particularly useful at this time.
United States: After 2016 election, rebuilding trust through dialog
Michael Eatman is director for community life at The Pike School, a Pre-K through 9th school in Massachusetts. As an African American educator, Michael knew that he could not stay silent after the contentious election. He decided he would help his school is by creating a space for honest dialog about feelings. He started with the trustees. He knew they had not all voted the same way. It took a lot of courage, but he said, “Let’s talk about the 2016 election.” Once they began talking, the feelings and words just flowed. He used EQ cards to help get people to focus on their feelings and express them.
“I showed them a three minute clip of Clinton and Trump ads. Then I asked them to write down what comes up for them, when it comes to the 2016 election and talk about it with a partner. We didn’t solve the problems of the world, however we got to see what the other person thought. It was colleagues working together to understand each other.”
Next, Micheal decided to try it with a larger group during the school visiting day. In a library full of 100 parents and alumni, he stood on a chair, and with some nervousness, he read a text from his niece, describing a fight that erupted between African American and white students at her college regarding the recent election.
“I had them pair up and do a listening exercise called compassionate engagement with someone they didn’t know. They had to take turns talking while the other person listened, and responded to the question, ‘How do you feel about the recent election?’ The result was that by sharing they had a rich dialog about a potentially polarizing topic. It was amazing to watch this group of people who didn’t really know each other have rich conversations about the election.”
The old adage that one should never bring up religion or politics in polite company may not be the best for healing wounds. If emotions can be discussed in a way that allows people to feel heard and understood, that is the beginning of bridging perceived differences, or even finding solutions to common problems. For Michael Eatman, it’s been an activity he can focus on that keeps his optimism flowing.
“During a heightened and stressful environment to have that many people be curious about others, it was heartening and made me realize that this EQ work and the leadership edge and cultural competence and conflict engagement, it is simple but it was telling for our community.”
Rather than sink into despair or inaction, Michael Eatman chose to use the election to galvanize his work, even if it means getting out of his comfort zone.
“As a diversity practitioner and as an African American man, I had to ask myself, am I angry? Am I optimistic? I realized I have some options, whether they are large or small. Using the know, choose, give model, the choose part of the model is more useful in this case. Even if something is a risk, it’s more purposeful. In a time of fear and darkness, I choose to have hope.”
Northern Ireland: A Story of Conflict and Forgiveness
Glenn Hinds is a coach and network leader living in Derry, in northern Ireland. He grew up during “the troubles,” the thirty year conflict that pitted the Catholic Irish Republican Army against the British and Protestant forces. Nearly 3600 people died during that time, with many more injured. Glenn’s family home was burned to the ground and there were several attempts on his father’s life. Many years after the conflict ended, Glenn says people still struggle with its aftermath.
“I grew up in a Catholic background. I would have identified myself as a republican, in the sense that I would have sided with the IRA, and would have on occasion celebrated the deaths of other people. I am not ashamed of that…I look back at that part of myself now, and I endeavor to understand him, not judge him. It was where I was born, and the circumstances I was born into.”
Having lived through such conflicted times, Glenn has a unique perspective on what peace really means. He says,
“Once the ceasefires were called and peace was negotiated, I was very quickly aware that stopping killing wasn’t in itself peace, it was just the end of violence. And that peace involved something more significant and that was the renewal of the relationship between the warring parties. For me that was about recognizing that the truth I had about the others was true, but equally significant, the truth they had about us was true as well.”
Glenn forced himself to see things from the other side’s perspective, using empathy to get past his anger. “The more I allowed myself to do that, the more I opened myself to seeing the strengths, talents, gifts and resources that are present in unionism and Britishness. That by not allowing myself to identify with it, I was denying myself. Because, whatever else was true, this is a state that is both Irish and British at the same time. “
A turning point came at a drama performance meant to help with reconciliation. One of the actors was part of the group who burned Glenn’s family home. “As part of my journey, I was able to go up to him afterwards. He offered his hand. And I said ‘ It would be disingenuous for me to shake your hand at this point. Because it wouldn’t be real for me to do that. But I want you to know who I am and what you represent to me, and my attempts to move forward from this point.’”
Three months later, Glenn was able to approach the man and talk to him and shake his hand. So, how does EQ fit into peace-making? Glenn says,
“It’s my actions that teach people, not my words. I can’t bring peace to the world by fighting people. That’s a difficult journey made easier by EQ. Especially the Six Seconds model, even more significantly, because it is such an accessible tool and means of explaining the why things are the way they are for me and for other people, and offers a gentle guidance and roadmap for how to make things more purposeful and more meaningful, for communities, the country, and the world as a whole.“
Lithuania After Independence: A Country Finding its Way
Nomeda Marazienė is a network leader and founder of the Leadership Experts Group, an EQ coaching organization and preferred partner of Six Seconds. She has worked with foster youth and worked with business leaders as well. She was 23 at the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has been a citizen of Lithuania for 25 years since independence. She sees a connection between the emotional health of the people and their leaders.
“Then and now, people are led and manipulated by so-called leaders. It is fear-based, and there is a lack of real emotional intelligence among leaders,” Nomeda recalls.
How does it affect the confidence of individuals when their leaders are not positive role models? Navigating the emotions of fear, insecurity and mistrust is something she has learned to do and to help others do.
“Uncertainty can help us grow, but when we need to cope with what we’re hearing on the news…sometimes it’s difficult to define what’s wrong and what’s right…There is a low level of trust. This is probably the basic issue. I mean if our so-called leaders, they change their promises, they have lack of integrity, they change the next day or week. It brings a high level of uncertainly and distrust.”
How do people feel under such circumstances? Nomeda says, on one hand, people feel isolated and powerless. “If we can’t trust the government, we focus on our ego needs, it leads to very individualistic approach, which means we lose a lot, and also we feel a lack of joy.”
How can emotional intelligence help guide people who feel insecure about the present as well as the future?
“There are three most important issues: First is a high level of integrity. If every single person focused on his or her personal integrity. It means practice what you preach, walk your talk. High level of responsibility, create some mutual value with others.
The second one is empathy. We need to think more about what is similar between people, instead of what is different. I mean yeah, we have different religions, cultures, mindsets, however we need to find some mutual value, mutual background to live in the same planet.
The third one is noble goal: To see the big picture, to understand and take responsibility for every single action. It’s not about individual goals, every single act is a piece of something bigger, to see the big picture. If everyone were to think at the end of the day, ‘Was I the best version of myself for the world, and what did I do for the world?’ it would bring value I think.”
EQ holds valuable lessons for people who have been through different types of conflicts. They have found optimism through using the tools of emotional intelligence to heal the wounds of the past. Wise words for the times we find ourselves in.