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The Emotional Intelligence of Jesus ~ The Story of the Matthew Bible ~ Poet and Priest Jamie Parsley

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"Jesus?" by IsaacToru is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

This is Main Street on Prairie Public. I'm Ashley Thornberg and Merry Christmas. Today is of course Christmas Day and we are starting our show with a conversation about the emotional intelligence of Jesus.

In 2015 the late Doug Hamilton, a former host of Main Street, spoke with Arland Jacobson, the former executive director of CHARIS , the ecumenical center at Concordia College in Moorhead. At the time, Jacobson was teaching a three-part course on the emotional intelligence of Jesus.

Emotional intelligence refers to our ability to form good, productive relationships. So it requires certain qualities of, we might say, personality such as empathy or the ability to control our emotions, also to be aware of our emotions because sometimes we're not even aware. So it sounds a lot like emotional intelligence is really focusing on people, listening to people.

Doug Hamilton

When did people start calling this emotional intelligence?

Arland Jacobson

I would say the 1980s. Daniel Goleman is probably the one who popularized it. He wrote a book. Then shortly after, Time magazine had a cover, What is Emotional Intelligence? or something to that effect.

And so it's been gathering steam ever since, both in the business community, I would say probably more in the business community actually than in the religious community, although it's opening up in the religious community as well. How is emotional intelligence evaluated or measured? Well, self assessment doesn't necessarily work very well, but there are tests that can measure it.

However, it's best if the test also is given to a bunch of other people who know this person, and then their assessment is compared with the self assessment. And if there's a big gap between your own self assessment and the assessment of other people, you've got a ways to go.

Doug Hamilton

How do we learn emotional intelligence?Is this a mom and dad thing?

Arland Jacobson

It's a mom and dad thing, sure. We learn it at school, we learn it in our interactions with other people, we learn it especially if we are given feedback, and if we can accept that feedback.

Doug Hamilton

Somebody emotionally intelligent giving constructive criticism. And in your case, as you know, the former executive director of the Ecumenical Center at Concordia, you're helping religious leaders lead.

Arland Jacobson

Yes. As a matter of fact, the book is written primarily with them in mind. My co-author has worked with churches all over the country, and he finds that relationship problems are really the main problem. It's not doctrinal problems or even sexual misconduct or something like that.

It's just general inability to establish good and positive relationships that are productive and enjoyable and that everybody gets excited about.

Listening, reacting, and giving good feedback, and making people think that what they're saying is worth listening to.

Doug Hamilton

Given the close interpersonal relationship that a pastor or a priest has with their congregation, can they realistically even do the job without emotional intelligence?

Arland Jacobson

Not really. No, no. I mean, there have been studies of this, and it's been shown over and over again that the primary problem that bishops of various kinds or executive leaders and other kinds of people, people in that position generally complain about the fact that a pastor or leaders in the congregation may be just unable to form very good relationships, and that really diminishes their quality of leadership.

In fact, there is no leadership unless they're able to establish those relationships. So the sermon could be solid gold, but you still have to work with the people there sitting in the pews.

Doug Hamilton

The book titled The Emotional Intelligence of Jesus, why that title?

Well, because the book is written for the church, we would like to see Jesus, and we do see Jesus as an exemplar of emotional intelligence, and much more so than I would have anticipated, frankly. I had not looked at Jesus in those terms at all. I was surprised, actually, how in many ways very subtle indications of emotional intelligence.

For example, the understanding of interpersonal forgiveness that Jesus emphasized so strongly. A very complicated kind of emotional intelligence required to actually forgive people. We infer this from what we know of the life of Jesus and the teachings that have been passed down?

We infer it from the portrait that we have in the Gospels, especially the first three Gospels. Because the Bible is not necessarily history, it's... No, no, it's a religious message.

It has certain characteristics that are similar to a biography, but they're not real biographies. And so we don't actually know how Jesus felt, we don't know his emotions, we don't know his psyche, we can't peer into that, but we can look at Jesus as a character in the Gospel in much the same way as a Shakespeare scholar might look at Hamlet. So we would infer this emotional intelligence because of what we want to take out of the Gospel.

We want to love our neighbor, we want to support each other.

Doug Hamilton

How do you rate your emotional intelligence?

Arland Jacobson

I don't think I have a huge problem. I am an introvert, so relationships are a little bit more of a challenge for me than they might be for somebody else. Somebody is more extroverted, but I've always been a listener.

I like to listen to people, I like to hear what they have to say, and try to be compassionate, and so on. If I were to ask 20 other people to assess me, I might be very surprised as to what they would have to say. How does you progress through this discussion?

We'll talk about what is emotional intelligence, because it is a concept that people are not necessarily clear about. I would also like to talk about some of the brain science that underlies the notion of emotional intelligence, because emotions are something that happen within our body quite involuntarily, generally speaking. Our feelings are really interpretations of what's going on in our body.

For example, if we blush, we have no control over blushing, but we interpret that as embarrassment. Understanding something of how the brain works is kind of useful. Then we'll talk about Jesus, and then we'll talk about what would be an emotionally intelligent pastor or leader, what would be an emotionally intelligent congregation, because as a congregation, there are certain things you could do to enhance the kind of atmosphere that exists in the congregation.

Well, we live in a world where we crave, perhaps, some emotional intelligence, but we are surrounded by a lot of dunder-headed stuff. We have social media that includes, you know, just basic attacks against people without any respect to their privacy or, you know, their issues.

Doug Hamilton

That is a bit of the conundrum we face in our modern life in the 21st century. We actually need emotional intelligence to do what needs to be done, but we are constrained by this other impulse, apparently, that is within us, the devil or the angel or whatever.

Arland Jacobson

There's a tremendous amount of fear in our culture, and much of our media feeds our fear, and fear is something that, the more the brain learns fear, the more fear becomes our default way of looking at the world. The amygdala is taking over control.

Fight or flight.I mean, it is a serious problem, I think, in our culture, because there's so much fear, and fear is used for political purposes. Are there examples of leaders, aside from the archetype you use in your book and in your course, Jesus Christ, contemporary leaders that you think exemplify good emotional intelligence?

Well, you know, President Clinton always talked about, I feel your pain. Yes. Now, was he emotionally intelligent in doing so?

I don't know. I mean, clearly, in his relationship to his wife, there were some issues there that he seemed not to have been aware of. I think it's kind of interesting to think about a couple of media figures.

Well, recently in the Super Bowl, the two coaches, rather different approaches, different kinds of emotional intelligence that you see in Belichick, as opposed to the other guy. And I just gaffed there, too. But also, you know, Dr. Spock in Star Trek had...

All the logic you'd need. All the logic, but he was not really a real nice person to be around. Not someone you'd want to snuggle up with.

He needed Captain Kirk? No. Well, he needed Mr. Rogers. That's who he really did, yes. Mr. Rogers would be Mr. Emotional Intelligence. Somebody who's kind of unflappable, who has an enormous amount of empathy, and just invites people into his neighborhood, and is just the kind of person who throws his arm around you and gives you virtual hugs.

That's a great example to end on. Fred Rogers, the late Fred Rogers, in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood, the man who put on that sweater oh so slowly and carefully as he sang to all those millions of kids for many, many, many years. An emotionally intelligent guy, and a wonderful television personality as well.