"How far you go in
life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of both the weak and the strong,
because someday in life you will have been one or all of these."
—George Washington Carver
This quote by George
Washington Carver, a popular African-American educator and scientist in the
19th century, embodies the central theme of my presentation. Sadly, my
presentation is a catharsis for me as I mourn the death of my beloved father
who will be buried on April 25, 1996.
Our ability to deal with
our feelings and emotions ought to be the aspiration in our global village. As
Baron and Byrne (1994) agreed, "feelings are a central part of life"
(p. 11). Our feelings affect our emotions, and vice versa. Baron and Byrne
explained three major theoretical frameworks on the nature of emotion. First,
the Cannon-Bard theory suggests that when we are exposed to emotion-provoking
events or stimuli, we quickly experience both the physiological signs of
emotion and the subjective experiences we label as fear, anger, and joy (e.g.,
when we win the lottery, we are elated). Second, the James-Lange theory
proposes that our subjective emotional experiences are actually the result of
our relatively automatic physiological reaction to various events (e.g., we
experience anger, fear, joy, or sorrow because we become aware of tears
streaming down our faces). And third, Schachter's two-factor theory suggests
that any form of arousal initiates a search for causes of feelings (e.g., if we
feel aroused in the presence of an attractive person, we may label our arousal
as "love" or "attraction"). There is no doubt that the
pendulum has swung here and there with regard to debates on the most convincing
theory on emotions. However, the impact of emotions on our lives cannot be
downplayed. In fact, how we react and respond to our emotions can depict our
ability to (a) survive in school and relate with peers and teachers, (b)
interact with ourselves and groups, and (c) deal with issues of life and death.
As I go through shock,
disbelief, anger, resentment, and acceptance of my father's death, I see myself
thinking about how far my parents, teachers, colleagues, and friends have
helped to strengthen my emotional beatitudes. In today's society, we are almost
losing control. We use simplistic terms to deal with complex issues or complex
terms to deal with simple issues. By doing this, we fail to value our beauties
and the beauties of others (Obiakor, 1996). Interestingly, our ability to work
together as a progressive society demonstrates our willingness to control our
emotions and respond to the emotions of other people (Obiakor & Weaver,
1995). Consider a few examples:
1. In the 1980s, a doctoral student of
a major university killed his major advisor because he felt he was unfairly
treated. He was found guilty and sentenced to jail.
2. A woman indicated that her children
were kidnapped by an African- American male in a carjacking incident. She cried
intensely while pleading with her children's kidnapper. It was later discovered
that she killed them by drowning. She was found guilty and sentenced to jail.
3. O. J. Simpson, a well-known football
Hall of Famer and sportscaster, was accused of killing his ex-wife and friend.
His trial stimulated our emotions. He was later found not guilty. Some people
rejoiced, and others were saddened.
4. A man worked very hard in school. He
graduated early from graduate school and law school. However, he could not get
a job because of his inability to control his emotions. He decided to blame his
problems on others. He has been living a very miserable life.
Balancing and Managing
The above cases might appear disconnected to us, but they seem to demonstrate
how different people have dealt with their emotions. We can surely learn from
them. Case #1 showed a
man who probably had worked very hard to achieve his goals in life. However, he
failed to understand and value his role in dealing with his circumstances. How
would you like such an emotionally unstable man to be your professor? How would
you like to have such a man as a colleague at a workplace? Just like many
others, I would be very scared to work with him. The best definition of quality
education is not just the ability to make "A" grades, it is also the
ability to know how to manage emotional reactions or arousals. Our traditional
definition of quality education has failed our society. We must begin to
evaluate quality education from the perspective of maximum learning.
In Case #2, the woman who drowned her
children was overwhelmed by crises. Again, she failed to understand her role in
controlling her circumstances--she decided to attribute her failures to someone
else. With a good emotional beatitude, she would have been able to understand
some far-reaching implications of her actions. Other emotional problems did
ensue as a result of her false accusation of an African-American male. Surely,
some people believed her. Individuals with good emotional beatitudes were leery
about jumping into false illusionary conclusions that frequently result from
misperceptions, miscategorizations, and misinformation. Our society progresses
when we avoid illusionary conclusions.
In Case #3, the O. J. Simpson case was
tried by everyone. Believe it or not, we all got emotionally involved. Again,
because of our emotional attachments to the case, we failed to "light the
candles" in all of us. Rather, we "cursed the darkness" in all
of us. I personally thought O. J. Simpson was guilty. However, his case exposed
our inability to deal with our emotions. The decisive issue of "race"
or "color" was brought to the spotlight. Some people denied it. Some
pretended it never existed, while some thought our society is consumed by
racial or cultural problems. With good emotional beatitudes, we cannot deny
race, color, and culture because they are a part of human existence. We are
downright disingenuous when we pretend they never exist because we are ignoring
the concept of intra-individual and inter-individual differences. On the other
hand, we cannot blame all of our problems on race, color, and culture. There is
a truth to the old adage, "United we stand, but divided we fall." Our
society progresses when there is unity.
Case #4 presents a typical scenario with
which most individuals can identify. We all want to be rewarded for our hard
work, and to some extent, "we put all of our eggs in one basket."
Here was a man who thought that making all "A" grades was tantamount
to success in life. Again, he failed to understand that the ways we interact
and respect people around us demonstrate great emotional stability. What is
more significant, however, is that this man could not handle failure. Even
though he was brilliant, he had an external locus of control. To be successful
in life, we must be willing to accept our failures and move on.
As individuals, we have a role to play in our lives. Some of our circumstances
are beyond our control (e.g., failure to gain admission into schools of our
choice, failure to be financially secure, divorce, and death). However, we can
control our reactions to our emotions. We cannot continue to blame others for
all our problems. We must develop emotional beatitudes to tackle daily
problems. We must learn to value ourselves and others. We cannot expect
everyone to react to the same situation in the same way. By so doing, we
respect those differences that are the wonders of individualities. As Toffler
(1982) pointed out more than a decade ago:
The responsibility for
change, therefore, lies with us. We must begin with ourselves not to close our
minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical. This
means fighting off idea as-sassins who rush forward to kill any new suggestion
on grounds of its impracticality, while defending whatever now exists as
practical, no matter how absurd, oppressive, or unworkable it may be. (p. 443)
As a society, we must be
careful about how we evaluate intelligence (Gardner, 1993). Our traditional
method appears to have failed. We must begin to look at emotional intelligence
as we evaluate general intelligence. The supposition that gifted or brilliant students
are those with IQs of 130+ has failed. We must begin to evaluate the total
person and how he/she uses common sense
to solve intrinsic and extrinsic problems. For individuals to be balanced and
for communities to be bal-anced, we must offer required courses on emotional
literacy, ethics, social psychology, and good citizenship from pre-kindergarten
to university levels. As a community of peoples, we can no longer afford to
exalt people who view themselves as "victims." In the words of Goleman
Being able to put aside
one's self-centered focus and impulses has social benefits: it opens the way to
empathy, to real listening, to taking another person's perspective. Empathy, as
we have seen, leads to caring, altruism, and compassion. Seeing things from
another's perspective breaks down biased stereotypes, and so breeds tolerance
and acceptance of differences. These capacities are ever more called on in our
increasingly pluralistic society, allowing people to live together in mutual
respect and creating the possibility of productive public discourse. These are
basic arts of democracy. (p. 285)
Baron, R. A., & Byrne, D. (1994). Social
psychology: Understanding human interaction (7th ed.). Boston, MA:
Allyn and Bacon.
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice.
New York: Basic Books.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than
IQ. New York: Bantam Books.
Obiakor, F. E. (1996,
January 24). The power of the word. The
Emporia Gazette, p. 7.
Obiakor, F. E., &
Weaver, K. A. (1995, May 17). Has U.S. become a nation of victims? The Emporia Gazette, p. 7.
Toffler, A. (1982). The third wave. New York: Bantam Books.