Now Is The Time For “Emotional Wisdom”
By Val Jon Farris



Today I want to write about the goodness of life. I want to use these words to convey my feelings of care   and concern for the people of our nation and those of the world at large. With all the pain and tragedy I’ve witnessed in recent weeks I feel the need to be reminded of the sweetness and beauty that exists in life. Writing to you is a good way for me to remember. Like you, I care about my family and friends, my community and country. And I care deeply about how we as human beings treat each other and how we deal with the complex and challenging issues of our times.

With as much desire as I have to celebrate the beauty of life, I find myself deeply disturbed by acts of terrorism and the expressions of the darker side of human nature. For weeks on end a question has haunted me ? a question I have asked many times before but remained unanswered. The question is, “How is it that we as human beings can be so quick to learn about things like industry and technology, yet be so slow witted when it comes to human relations?” One would think that because we are human, we would naturally treat others humanely. Or, if valuing humanity doesn’t come naturally, we would learn to honor it through studying our past mistakes.

“One would think that because we are human, we would naturally treat others humanely.”

The only answer that makes sense is that we haven’t yet learned about human dignity because we haven’t been studying it. Historically mankind has demonstrated a remarkable ability to learn, develop and adapt, but only if the desire is present. Just in the past two hundred years we have gained exponential advances in science and technology. But how much progress have we made in the area of human relations in the past two hundred years? Or the past two thousand for that matter? Not near as much. Why the stark contrast in progress? Because we’ve had no desire to learn the principles and practices of human relations. We don’t learn about them at home, our schools don’t teach them and our society doesn’t value them. Venues of education that do offer insight into human nature such as liberal arts, philosophy and the humanities are viewed as “soft skills” that have little or no redeeming market value. With no mentors leading by demonstrating values such as human dignity, harmony and reverence, they aren’t going to be embraced by our society.

One amazing thing about life is that it won’t allow us to ignore the rules of harmony, balance, cause and effect for long. In fact, the more we avoid these lessons, the more intense the interventions become. Looking back on my life it’s clear that whenever I ignored one of life’s lessons I always got its importance later on at some point ? and quite often at a substantially higher cost as well.

Happiness may not come to us through the quality and quantity of things we possess, but rather as a result of learning from and becoming wise from our past failures and successes.

‘Wise” is the key word here. Could wisdom be the essential condition for happiness? All the wise people I have ever met seemed to have a calmness about them, a centered nature, an appreciate eye, a disciplined mind. People who are wise also seem to be able to come to terms with the random acts of life that assault our senses. It’s not that these people aren’t bothered by life, but when they do get perturbed, they retain a sense of dignity and self-esteem in the process. All these qualities may not ensure happiness but they certainly support it in showing up.

So what is the nature of wisdom and how can we acquire more of it?  I’m no expert in the area but I have a few ideas. First, I feel that being wise is not an “end” state. Wisdom includes knowing there is always much more wisdom to gain. People who believe they’ve put in their time and no longer need to stretch in life are not very wise. Second, people who are wise have integrated their emotional selves into their behaviors and attitudes. Wise people are not only mentally competent, they are emotionally talented as well. They seem to know how to leverage their feelings in positive ways ? ways that deliver them to greater degrees of resolve and deeper dimensions of fulfillment. Third, just because a person is smart doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wise. Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but there are a lot of very bright people in the world committing unwise acts. Intellect is measured by the quantity and quality of information a person possesses. Wisdom however, may be measured by how many ways that person can know and access the information they possess.

Diversity of perspective may well be a hallmark of wisdom. How many times and in how many ways have you had to learn the same lessons over and over until you finally got wise?  It’s unrealistic to think we can gain wisdom by knowing something in only one way or through one encounter. There are however, some who never learn regardless of how many encounters they have. Why is this?  You might think that if a person has repeatedly experienced the pain and consequences of their actions that they would eventually learn, right?  Wrong. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes we just never learn. Let’s look at some of the areas people have difficultly learning and see if there are any common denominators. How about relationships?  Many people have a huge learning disability in this area. We get out of one mess with a person and end up jumping right into another with someone else. What about personal health and well-being?  Many people know they should be more disciplined, but knowing what they should be doing while not doing it only adds guilt to the situation. We’ve already discussed human relations on a global scale, but what about communication on a local scale?  The level of patience people possess today for engaging in civil conversation has dipped lower than the stock market. Quite frankly, we’d rather fight than talk.

All the issues listed do have a common denominator. They all require the involvement of human emotions. The biggest challenge facing humanity today may well be emotional wisdom — a foreign concept to many. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that our society acknowledged there was a competency called “emotional intellect.”  The potential receptivity factor to this notion was so low that the designers of the theory had to attach the word “intellect” to it in order to bolster its credibility.

Emotional wisdom departs from intellect totally. It’s time for us to value emotions for what they are without having to justify them with reason. I’d like to suggest a wiser way to relate to our emotions. A way that doesn’t require suppressing or ignoring them, or  beating the stuffing out of pillows to act them out, or even “transcending” them. I want to suggest a way that positively leverages any emotion, regardless of its intensity and transforms it into an abundance of wise and powerful energy. Emotional wisdom provides the means to accomplish this remarkable feat for just about anyone willing to study it and practice it.

Let me illuminate the workings of emotional wisdom through an analogy. Incoherent light, emitted from a standard light bulb shines out in all directions. Its intensity is unfocused and dispersed. Coherent light on the other hand, like that streaming from a laser or a magnifying glass is focused in one specific direction. Because the light energy is directed intentionally, it has far greater power and utility than the light bulb. Emotional wisdom is like coherent light in that it is a means by which we intentionally direct our experience to a place within our awareness of focused and powerful energy.

How we gain emotional wisdom is through using what I call a “lens of intent.”  A lens of intent is similar to a magnifying glass in that it focuses energy to a specific location. The lens in a magnifying glass directs the light energy emitted from the sun toward a central point on a surface. Just like the magnifying glass, a lens of intent directs our emotional energy and transforms it into a powerful focal point of awareness. The most remarkable aspect of emotional wisdom is that the more intense our emotional experience, the more power and utility we derive from its focal point!

How do you practice it? Choose any emotion that arises within you. Next select a lens of intent for that emotion. A lens of intent is any predefined direction that gives emotional expression positive meaning and purpose. For example, when I get sad I use the lens of intent of humility or appreciation. As sadness arises within me I direct its emotional energy toward being humbled. As I focus the experience, my sadness transforms into humility and an elevated sense of appreciation for what I do have in my life emerges from within my heart. Another example is fear. My lens of intent for this emotion is faith, trust and vigilance. These three points together help in transforming the intense energy of fear into a positive and powerful sense of self-reliance and self-trust. For other emotions such as anger, you might want to use care and respect. (We seldom get angry unless we care deeply about something or someone.)  For love, you may want to use reverence and respect as your lens of intent. The feelings of guilt or shame are a challenge, but again humility or even integrity and resolve can be used to transform them into positive energy.

Your lenses of intent may be completely different from mine so it’s best to explore the full range of your emotions and identify your own unique focal points. Remember that you can’t gain wisdom from just one attempt. Stay at it and you are sure to deepen your emotional wisdom ? and as you do, the beauty and grace that exists in life will surely uplift you.

Val Jon Farris is an award-winning author, a Fortune 500 leadership consultant and the executive director of the “Wisdom for Humanity Network,” an international education-based organization. For more information you may visit .  

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