My first lesson in emotional intelligence was a tough one. I was 10 years old, playing baseball in the backyard with my friends, when I heard the phone ringing though our open windows.
My grandmother on my father’s side was on the line. “Hi, Michael. I hope you are doing well. Is your mother home?”
I told her my mom was out shopping but would be back soon. “OK. I have some sad news to tell you. Please let your mother know that your grandfather died this morning. I called your dad at work, but I wanted to personally let your mom know as well. I’ll be busy taking care of some details, but please let her know that I am fine.”
When my mom pulled in from shopping — I ran up to the car door and said without pausing, “Mom, Granny called to let you know that Grandpa just died.”
My mom was stunned. The fact that I ran up to the car, rushed out the words without context, and blurted out such a hard truth with no emotion made the moment even more difficult.
I was just a kid at the time, of course, but over time I’ve learned to be more sensitive and aware of other’s feelings and emotions. As a priest, I know its huge importance and I try my best to convey the mercy of Christ and His kindness.
One of my hobbies for the past 10 years has been reading literary fiction — so I was happy to read these words in a recent piece in Nautilus: “In a study led by Raymond Mar, voracious readers of fiction were better than lighter consumers of fiction at making nuanced social judgments based on limited information — for example, deciphering complex emotions by looking at photographs of people’s eyes, and using subtle cues in videos of social interactions (such as guessing who was the child of the two adults in [a] video based on body language, tone of voice, and other nonverbal information).”
I have been blessed to work with many holy women over the years, so I asked two of them, Rose McManus from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and Kristin Cecchi of Washington, D.C., to share their stories and insights.
Rose McManus shared this:
“We all have that friend who has that sixth sense. These friends reach out when needed, ask the right questions and look beyond the surface of everyday life. I am blessed to be surrounded by the most giving, kind, funny and generous women in my life that I am privileged to call friends. One such instance happened as I was walking on to the tennis court for my doubles match. Mind you, I had been carrying a weight all day — but I pride myself on staying positive and putting on a happy face.
Within a minute of starting our warmups, my partner said to me, “Are you OK? What is wrong? ” I looked at her in awe. I wasn’t moping. I was happy to be playing tennis and had just pushed aside that weight.
“How can you tell?” I asked her.
“It’s so obvious,” she responded. I then realized the beauty of those who are gifted with emotional intelligence. Their feelers are so in tune to those around them. I personally do not have that natural inclination, but have worked hard to really pay attention and tune in. Grateful.
Kristin Cecchi, for her part, broke it down in a beautiful way — and opened up her heart for all of us.
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is something I have been working on developing my whole life, particularly in relationship to myself and my relationship with other women (because I truly long for sisterhood and connectedness). In 2017, women exist in a social media-induced haze of filtered perfection and pressure to be the best. We feel we must be the perfect mom, sexy wife, beautiful homemaker, fitness queen, style icon, and zen-breathing organic chef. We shred ourselves internally when we do not live up to our culture’s impossible standards, which is pretty much daily or hourly in most cases.
I think women exist in a true juxtaposition of our hearts and our culture. While many of us long for sisterhood — and a true and trusted bestie — we have a strong tendency to be hard and mistrustful of other women. I think it’s largely because we are so hard on ourselves. After all, if you cannot be kind, forgiving and loving to yourself, how can you really trust that someone else will be? Instead of honest and open connection, we go about our days sending our “representative” out into the world to project our ideal of the perfect woman and praying it will be good enough to prevent the criticism of other women, who are doing the exact same thing.
I was not blessed with an ideal and traditional mother-daughter relationship growing up, so much of my EQ has been forged over years of highs and lows. I have learned through humiliation, hurt, pain — as well as through love, support, forgiveness, and the selfless acts of others. Mistake by mistake, success by success, I have now built a strong emotional foundation so that my heart and soul can thrive, particularly as a mother, wife and friend.
I now connect and trust others, and have the friendships I truly desire and need. But first I must be loving, trusting, and, most of all, forgiving of myself. Love, trust and forgiveness are the foundation upon which you build any relationship — without them, you live in fear and insecurity. After years of working hard on these foundations, I can say that I am in a place where I like who I am; I accept who I am; I am a work in progress.
Humility and empathy are my two favorite tools now. I try to walk in another’s shoes and understand what emotions could be driving their actions. This helps me be more forgiving and less judgmental and anticipate the needs of others. The real me is so much better than the representative. I also love self-deprecating humor — for me, it’s a great way to drop one’s guard, connect to others, and help them drop their representative and feel safe to be real, too.
The more you accept and love yourself with all your flaws and imperfections and mistakes, the more you are able to love and accept others and experience deeper friendships without being torn apart by rejection or disappointment.
She added this in a note to me: “As my 30s are coming to a close, I am happy to report that I am definitely scoring a much higher EQ than when I entered them. Like Jesus taught us through His suffering, there is beauty and a gift in the pain of my 20s and early 30s. With my 40th birthday at the end of this year, I look forward to raising my score even higher.”
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.