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Fostering Emotional Intelligence

Perhaps you have recently heard the buzz word — emotional intelligence.

According to Daniel Goleman, the American psychologist who helped to popularize the concept, the five key elements associated with emotional intelligence include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

I have encountered this concept several times as it relates to the students in our local school system. Many students, parents, and school leaders seem to agree that our schools are doing a great job of helping students achieve academic success, which leads to good test scores and college acceptance.

But we are also recognizing that success in college and life does not depend exclusively on a high IQ. A high EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, is also important for success in life. I believe that engagement with a religious tradition, whatever that tradition may be, can be a good way to help all of us develop and strengthen our EQs. Religious practice provides many of the benefits that are associated with emotional intelligence.

Having regular opportunities to pause from the busyness of life and spend time in reflection is associated with good emotional intelligence. Many religion traditions encourage people to pause and reflect through regular times of prayer, meditation, and devotion. In my own tradition, I was instructed to pause and pray first thing in the morning, before my three meals, and before bed. This practice of regular prayer gave my day a framework. It slowed me down and reminded me that life was not just about accomplishment.

Being strong academically does not ensure that our we will have deep or rich relationships. I have two brothers and we all had different interests growing up. Given those differences, there was one thing I knew for sure: my family would be together on Sunday mornings. Going to church together as a family was important to the relationships within my family. It also helped me to build relationships with other members of our wider community.

People with high emotional intelligence see themselves as participants in a story that is bigger than their own lives. The greater story keeps people focused and motivated. It answers the question, “why am I here?”. Religion has certainly provided me with a larger story. As a kid, I was constantly told that God had put me in the world for a purpose. My goal was to understand what God wanted me to do with my life. This idea helped keep me grounded through college. As I changed my major and wondered about what the future would bring in terms of finding a marriage partner and a career, I had a strong footing knowing that God was watching over me and helping guide my life.

Personally, I am grateful for what my religious tradition has offered me when it comes to emotional intelligence. There are many other ways to pursue greater EQ, but perhaps you will consider a deeper commitment to a religious tradition as the avenue to greater balance and peace in your life and the life of your family. ■

Rev. Jeff Knol is the minister at the Blawenburg Reformed Church in Skillman, NJ. He is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan and a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. He lives in Skillman with his wife and daughter.

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