Holding emotional awareness and intelligence in the 21st Century
Posted on April 25, 2018
NOTE: I wrote this post before our one week vacation in Hawaii with my parents. Some ups and downs but overall an advance from past intergenerational vacations. Still, it was physically and emotionally exhausting. There were beautiful moments where Collin braved himself into the water and the harder moments where he was just triggered by almost everything we did.
At the end of the trip, instead of going home with the fam, I went directly to Portland, Oregon for a couple of talks. my first talk was on building a movement ecosystem. As I was doing a brief introduction of myself and shared a recent picture of me and Collin (above), I literally broke down as talked about what was at stake for me. It caught me off guard and I’m sure the room but it was a good and beautiful reminder of how human I am (whew) and how real this is for me. It ended up being one of the best talks I’ve done in a long time. And even if it wasn’t, it would have still been fine. The most important thing was that people genuinely felt my purpose. I hope you all feel what I’m feeling.
As I’m entering my 40s, I’ve learned a lot about trauma and triggers in life and the movement. From being painfully unaware to being too aware of my own emotions. In my better moments, I’ve had capacity for emotional intelligence. Still, I struggle with holding this tension and feel that sometimes emotional awareness gets conflated with emotional intelligence. In the 21st Century, this dialectic and nuance is even more important to understand.
So what is it? I’m no an expert on these sorts of things but here is my quick take. Emotional awareness is being deeply connected to your feelings and emotions (feeling the feels). Emotional intelligence is being as purposeful as possible while feeling the feels. It means being able to be grounded and advance without being overpowered by emotions. Holding this tension can be very powerful.
My first emotional breakdown (or opening) I could remember was when my grandmother passed away over 20 years ago; I was very close to her as the oldest grandson. As a cis-gender man, I was trained by Chinese patriarchy and society overall to repress my emotions. I bottled it up but like all physics it came out in other unhealthy ways.
At the time, I was also in an unhealthy relationship where I isolated myself from everyone. As I was speaking at the funeral, I cried. I cried A LOT. I cried for my grandmother. I cried for myself. I wasn’t able to properly grieve for her passing. It was at that moment that I knew I needed help.
There are so many other moments and each time I’m learning more about myself. From movement guilt, which led to burnout; from the pain inflicted on loved ones and intergenerational trauma, which led to deep empathy and deep pain. From the endless wars, state violence and toxic masculinity to the rise of white and ethnic nationalism, I certainly feel the feels but sometimes I just feel anger and hopelessness.
“From the endless wars, state violence and toxic masculinity to the rise of white and ethnic nationalism, I certainly feel the feels but sometimes I just feel anger and hopelessness.”
In the 21st century, especially in this stage of capitalism, social media and post modernism moves faster than the speed of trust, love, and human emotions. We are hyper critical about ourselves and others, which often leads to our very own paralysis.
So how do we build up our individual and collective human capacity to hold emotional awareness and intelligence?
Without a doubt, my somatic practice has been a source of strength. But as with everything, we need to keep building a community of practice. To often in this society, we feel we need to go it alone but that is exactly what the system wants us to do.
We need to learn to turn towards (not away from) each other. Though the capacity to do this is hard and sometimes painful, it is how we transform of ourselves and our relations that creates openings for us to grow our souls and grow our emotional intelligence.
For me, I live this on the daily with Collin. He feels the feels almost ALL the time, his superpower can absorbs his entire surrounding. He’s always giving us a lot but most important thing he gives us is a new understanding of our human capacities. Some are surprised that he feels the sadness of others or how he can turn happy to triggered in a heartbeat…
Collin has incredible emotional awareness. There are times that his hyper sensitivities and sensory are difficult and unpredictable. And then there are tender moments where he shares his sadness and deep empathy with us. Those moments are priceless and hopeful.
And not to make a direct comparison here but it is related. I’ve seen this generation of organizers hold emotional awareness and intelligence, as well. I feel they have some of the greatest superpowers and potential to hold this tension. As a yelder, I’ve been fortunate to share space and grow with many of them. From feeling the feels to the commitment to win for our people, I’ve seen a sharpness and tenderness that I never had.
I also see many challenges. There is a lot of angst towards millennials; some believe their level of emotional awareness is an incredible weakness. Some millennials even feel this way about their own generation! To me, this could be the greatest strength but like any (revolutionary) potential, it needs to be harnessed. It requires revolutionary love and rigor at the same time to reach its fullest potential.
“To me, this could be the greatest strength but like any (revolutionary) potential, it needs to be harnessed. It requires revolutionary love and rigor at the same time to reach its fullest potential.”
As a baba and yelder, I want to do right for Collin and the next generation. I want to be the best steward I can be. Learning to hold our emotional awareness and intelligence will be critical. I don’t know the playbook for this but I know it will take a lot of trust and struggle — setting this intention and continuously coming back to what is at stake and my purpose is always the first step.