Garret Kaulkus, a young boy who was riding his bike in suburban Washington, came across a badly injured and abused dog. He abandoned his bike, and carried the almost 80-pound dog more than half a mile to his house, where he and his parents rushed the mortally wounded animal to a veterinarian’s office.
Garret refused to leave the animal’s side while the veterinarians unsuccessfully tried to save the dog’s life. While the veterinarian’s staff members were filled with anger toward the perpetrator of the abuse, they noted that Garret’s eyes showed only compassion and love as he stroked the dog in its final moments. The staff noted, “Garret was our teacher today.”
What exactly did Garret teach? He demonstrated one of the core principles of human nature: empathy. What leads a person such as Garret to possess such a strong sense of empathy?
Emotional intelligence. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, our emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.
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Since the 1995 publication of psychologist and writer Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking bestseller, “Emotional Intelligence,” a global movement has developed to bring emotional intelligence into schools, businesses and communities. Emotional intelligence is measured by a person’s ability to understand his own emotions and the emotions of others.
It is a way of describing a person who is empathic in his interactions with the world. According to Goleman, one key benefit is that “emotional intelligence can help people make better decisions.” This increased effectiveness is invaluable for business, essential for education and transformational for personal life.
Is it enough for someone to be intellectually capable, but emotionally inept? Certainly “smart” University of Oklahoma fraternity brothers who chanted racial slurs couldn’t stand on their academic achievements or Greek status as justification for emotionally dumb behavior.
Of course the most powerful form of teaching kids is modeling. We must look within ourselves to determine whether we exhibit the emotional intelligence to set the standard.
What level of emotional intelligence do we not only possess but demonstrate? Are we having conversations at the dinner table not just about whether the math test was aced but about others who may be hurting or how our family can best comfort a neighbor?
Raising emotionally intelligent children requires that parents, educators and communities empathize with the varied emotions that kids feel. Our ability to help children problem-solve and think outside of themselves promotes the development of emotional intelligence.
Findings from a research study of 119 families that observed how parents and children reacted to one another in highly emotionally charged situations tell a simple yet compelling story. Most parents fall into one of two broad categories: those who give kids guidance about the world of emotion and those who don’t.
Common descriptions that parents give to others about their children often include adjectives such as “beautiful” or “smart.” How much more valuable instead it is for our children and others to hear us describe them first as “kind.”
After all, even though we don’t know whether Garret Kaulkus is beautiful or smart, we do indeed know that he is kind. And that’s enough for me.
Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct professor. She lives in Platte City. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.