An Unexpected Way To Increase Emotional Intelligence

14 Aug 2015

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Dustin Hoffman Dustin Hoffman - leading man in The Graduate

A group of colleagues and I recently enrolled in an online acting masterclass, hosted by Dustin Hoffman. As I recall, only one member of the group is pursuing acting outside of their full-time role, so what was the motivation for the others?

We are interested in achieving a better understanding of how we portray ourselves and how we perceive others’ behavior. We’re doing this in order to build stronger, lasting relationships with those around us.

In our first online class, Dustin talked about leading men and women. Dustin’s view is that the leading men or women in movies do not have to be limited just to characters with a narrow set of pre-defined characteristics. Actors should play the part with respect for the reality that humans are flawed and complicated.

As a group, we discussed some of the people we work with and those who we consider leading men and women among them. We reflected on how this perception of their ‘leading’ status may serve them and those around them.

Unsurprisingly, people we considered as such were senior members of the company. There was a consensus in the group that we tend to think of these colleagues in terms of specific traits we see them display when they’re leading.

Because of this, we only have part of what is actually a much richer story. Just like us, they feel pain, get scared, and fall in love.

This language (and way of thinking) reminded me of a well-known meditation called ‘Loving Kindness’.

The original name of this practice is metta bhavana (from the Pali language). Metta means ‘love’ (in a non-romantic sense), friendliness, or kindness: hence ‘loving-kindness’ for short. It is an emotion; something you feel in your heart. Bhavana means development or cultivation. Hence, literally, ‘the cultivation of loving-kindness’.

There are many versions of the loving-kindness meditation. One of my favorites includes the wording ‘just like you’.

This meditation involves thinking of people that you have differing feelings for; some positive and some less positive. You hold them in your attention and reflect on their humanity. Ultimately, you have a sense of waves of loving-kindness spreading out towards everyone (to all beings everywhere).

More broadly?

People are multi-dimensional. When they frustrate you, imagine them pushing their grandmother’s wheelchair. When they disappoint you, imagine them hooked up to machines in the hospital. When they anger you, imagine their sadness at the loss of a parent.

By reminding ourselves that we are multi-faceted, we are more likely to think of others this way. This increases our empathy and our ability to be charitable, compassionate and form deeper relationships. Humanize the people around you, to bring your most compassionate self to the forefront.

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