Mind Over Matter
Emotional intelligence is a gift
“The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts. ” — Charles Darwin, 1871
Last week, I explored the need to — how to put this politely? — keep your yapper shut.
If, at times, we’re better served by remaining silent, then what happens when we’re forced to be alone with our thoughts?
We seem to be always running to one thing or another; in some cases, running from ourselves. Solitude and reflection afford us the opportunity to use such moments to forge a deeper understanding our ourselves.
In such moments, we have the gift of being able to spend what Vincent Starrett called “the romantic chamber of the heart, the nostalgic country of the mind.”
The human mind is a marvelous entity; among the class Mammalia of the kingdom Animalia, we are the only species that consciously understands its past and dreads the future, knowing that it portends our death.
This consciousness is a gift and a curse, as the knowledge of what has already happened informs what may happen next.
And yet, ironically, we spend our lives repeating the mistakes of our forebears, even with the knowledge of their struggles. Because we are consistent in the behaviors driven by our subconscious.
It’s all there for us to see.
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St. Augustine acknowledged the difficulty of uncovering some of that buried treasure in his Confessions:
“The power of the memory is prodigious, my God. It is a vast, immeasurable sanctuary. Who can plumb its depths? And yet it is a faculty of my soul. Although it is part of my nature, I cannot understand all that I am…I am lost in wonder when I consider this problem. It bewilders me.”
In other words, when we recognize the truth that we don’t know what we don’t know, it is simultaneously liberating and frustrating. Such is the curse of self-awareness, part of the makeup of an emotionally-intelligent leader.
Acknowledging that we’re not know-it-alls is one of the skills that sets good leaders apart. We can’t be experts in everything; we hire people with skills and knowledge we don’t possess.
“To consult the record in books both ancient and modern is to come across every vice, virtue, motive, behavior, obsession, joy, and sorrow to be met with on the roads across the frontiers of the millennia.” — Lewis H. Lapham, 2018
Leadership is not a destination; it is an odyssey, meant to be undertaken with a crew and a vision for the long term.
As we continue to divine where and how to apply what we know, exploring the tapestry of our past and the labyrinth of our minds, it should be a great comfort to know we’re not alone on our journey.
We have the gifts of companions, colleagues, and consciousness.
The mind is what allows us to unwrap those gifts and make use of them.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
One more thing
On the next episode of the Timeless Leadership podcast, I’m speaking with Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English. It’s a fascinating discussion that looks at leadership through the lens of language. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.