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View from US: Fire up your EQ

September 29, 2012

I have a slice of chocolate left over from last New Year’s Eve dinner. Actually it’s a slice of life that Alex shared with me as we sat eating our last meal of 2011. It was about emotional intelligence, better known as ‘EQ’ with ‘Q’ as the quotient as in ‘IQ’ that we all are familiar with. I reported our exchange on these pages: “The top 20 per cent are smart people, wherever they be will be, whatever they attempt to do, they will always succeed!” Alex, had announced. “They have energy; they go out of the way to take risks; they are loaded with smart curiosity; they work exceptionally hard and have a good EQ.”

Janet, Alex’s wife, had a simpler definition: “EQ is like how well you deal with environmental stress in everyday life.” Well that made a lot more sense to me, I admitted. Not satisfied with the unembellished explanation, Alex proceeded to quote sources describing EQ as an “ability, capacity or skill to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups.” Of course Alex would know for he’s in the top 20 if not the top one per cent of America’s most successful. Was he being a wee bit boastful? As though he read my mind (talk about EQ!) he quickly dispelled my suspicion with his next sentence: “People with a bad EQ are those who are not humble. They instinctively think of themselves, instead of looking outside of themselves. They fail to build trust or empathise with others.”

I don’t know if psychologists have developed a successful formula to measure a person’s EQ like they have with IQ, but all I know is that all of us, no matter what gender, age, income or status, need extra props like initiative, adaptability and persuasiveness to get through the labyrinth of life. Enough of pop psychologists who have minted millions out of the misery of ordinary folks floating around with labels like ‘failure’, ‘dropout’. Help books can’t really be your guide; or your mentors; or your spouse or even a best friend. You have to soul search your emotions and decide how best to handle issues, big and small, yourself. Having technical expertise or book learning or cleverness won’t do. Nor being nice, accommodating or modest type will help you in situations that demand bluntness. The journey of self-discovery takes years if not decades to mature. As you evolve through time and space, you see yourself hurtling towards the black hole that sucks you in. Those who fight to stop the path to the black hole are the ones who are emotionally strong to take on any ‘kick’ that comes their way.

“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a wealthy businessman who became super rich while freely hiring and firing employees. His faith in free market made him say, “You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say, ‘I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.’” Nobel laureate in economics and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman agreed with Mitt’s statement calling it the “unfortunate price we have to pay for having a dynamic economy”.

Apart from job insecurity and the fear of being sacked, capitalism has touched lives of the young. Children are growing more lonely and depressed, more angry and unruly, more nervous and prone to worry, more impulsive and aggressive. These adjectives were laid out by Harvard professor Daniel Coleman 14 years ago in his bestseller Emotional Intelligence. (Remember how we lapped up the book back in Pakistan then?)

Today, this same generation has entered the workforce.

Coleman’s book talks of Americans working in the State Department. He quotes from a number of sources who said that while these Foreign Service officers did well in written tests, their on-the-job performance was on average poor. Most failed to read emotional messages in people with backgrounds vastly different from their own “a competence crucial not only for diplomats but through today’s work world for capitalising on diversity”.

American administrations, past and present, have spent billions trying to win over the hearts and minds of people around the world. It has backfired badly. The most glaring examples being Afghanistan and Pakistan. While the governments and corrupt leaders — civil and military — of these two countries may be in cahoots with the Americans, only because Washington engineers their survival by giving them money knowing that the money ostensibly meant for the betterment of the citizens is often pocketed by the rulers themselves. Dismissively branded as ‘Af-Pak,’ a term popularised by the late Ambassador Holbrooke, common folks both in Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to eye the US as their enemy number one.

What the State Department then needs to do is to understand the sensitivities, culture, traditions and thinking of its officers assigned to its Islamabad and Kabul missions. Wearing shalwar/kameez and the wife covering her head with a scarf is not enough.

The Americans are seriously considering a ‘reboot’ of their dismal relationship with Pakistan. Their attempt to blunt criticism on the blasphemous film has failed. It bought airtime on Pakistani TV channels showing Obama and Hillary Clinton condemn the film. The US Embassy in Islamabad spent $70,000 to air these messages in Urdu. It also posted them on its Facebook site.

Surely the Americans can’t be that naive to think they can contain the tide of hate with the help of a Facebook or TV ad? The men protesting on the streets and getting killed have layers and layers of resentment against the US for bypassing the basic needs of the majority and instead spending billions in the name of ‘aid’ on geo-political and strategic control in the region.

They should listen to a fellow-American who wrote a book which is still selling 76 years later teaching the world How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie understood human nature and what it takes to make friends. Instead, the US State Department appears to be doing the opposite. Does their in-house manual for its diplomats serving abroad sound more like Toby Young’s memoir How to Lose Friends and Alienate People? Young was a British journalist who was fired as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair after his two-year stint in New York. So he wrote a parody on Dale Carnegie’s book that became a movie in 2008.