"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:
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.
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.
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.
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 Our Emotions
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 (1995):
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Festus E. Obiakor, PhD, is professor of psychology and special education at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. He received an MA in special education at Texas Christian University (1981) and an MA in psychology (August 1986) and a PhD in special education (December 1986) at New Mexico State University. The author of more than 100 publications, Dr. Obiakor's most recent books are Eight-Step Multicultural Approach: Learning and Teaching With a Smile (1994) and Managing Problem Behaviors (1995). His particular interests are multicultural psychology, special education, comparative special education, and reaching at-risk students.
Fall 1996 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 16-17, 62), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1996, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.