Faith, Hope and ‘Emotional Intelligence’

As my wife and I prepare for our summer break (this is the last Briefing until September), we have been looking back on the year. We both have elderly mothers, who make demands but remind us of ultimate realities. We have four fine grandchildren, who bring delight but intensify our concerns about the future. We have hitherto managed to side-step COVID but are aware that millions have seen their loved ones, work, health, and relationships lost for ever. ‘What’s in a name?’ Shakespeare’s Juliet asks to challenge the flawed edifice of family and convention. ‘What’s in a year?’ we might wonder when its substance is so much more than mere time or the clickety-clack of a chronometer. It is only fools or the fainthearted who look back without asking, ‘Did I use that time well?’ Or, perhaps even more tellingly, ‘What was really going on then?’ I hope that’s not true of me or my wife and family.

It would be easy to look back on a year that has seen COVID continue to wreak havoc (away from the selective gaze of Western media) and doubt the reality of human compassion and reliability of science as our guide. After all, vaccine distribution seems to have fulfilled the needs of elite nations and variants outpaced the fleetest researchers. It would also be easy to look back on a year that has seen a sovereign nation on Europe’s eastern border held to ransom by a cynical invader, and not despair at the impotence of its friends and brutality of its enemies. And it would be extremely easy to capitulate to carping commentary on COP’s toothless idealism, China’s ruthless militarism, and the draining, dispiriting reality of socio-economic interconnectedness, soaring prices and now pervasive food insecurity. In short, it would be easy to accede to the opinion, popularised by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1937-2022), ‘The world is a mess’, and have nothing to say by way of mitigation. But that would be to forget three of the best resources humanity has to change time from minutes into treasured moments, hours into honoured memories, and ‘just another year’ into what the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) called ‘significant history’ (Germ. Geschichte), with potential for moral and personal discovery.

Of course, we can choose never to look down into the deep waters of historical events and cultural, political and social evolution: but that is, I fear, to make the reasons we return to work after a break, or continue to love our partner, or make plans for our grandchildren, or generally try to ‘keep the rules’, paltry and threadbare, and the lure of another glass of wine of an evening that much greater! As the ever-wise and provocative Book of Proverbs bluntly advises – ‘Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more’ (31.6). Yes, there are ways of surviving ‘just another year’: faith, hope and emotional intelligence are invaluable aids to finding depth in life and a way out of the mess – any mess – we are in.

But faith, hope and emotional intelligence? ‘What a strange, implausible, equally impotent, diet of remedies to offer an ailing world!’ you may protest. I wonder. Imagine for a moment a world without faith and hope and emotional intelligence, and you will perhaps begin to see why I am keen we acknowledge, perhaps rediscover, the gifts they offer. We need to be clear, though, what we are talking about and cross-examine every term as Juliet does a ‘name’, lest we are left wondering, What’s in [a] faith? Why bother to hope? Why trust in the power of ‘emotional intelligence’?

Faith and ‘variations’

J. S. Bach (1685-1750), The Art of the Fugue, Contrapunctus 1, BWV 1080

Two more points before we look at ‘hope’. First, the quality of ‘variations’ depends on the excellence and integrity of the ‘fugue’. Bach’s fourteen fugues (and four canons) in The Art of the Fugue (Germ. Die Kunst der Fuge), BWV 1080, which he compiled in the last decade of his life, represent an extraordinary – and notably unfinished – collection of ‘variations’ on a single theme. To experts, it is the apotheosis of Bach’s long quest for creativity and beauty through monothematic simplicity. Since no instrument is specified (although a keyboard is usually assumed), The Art of the Fugue has often been seen as an intellectual (mathematical even) exercise in ‘contrapuntal’ possibility. The fact Bach based one fugue on B-A-C-H[1] and died before finishing the work has given scholars plenty to chew on! For our purposes, both of these facts are suggestive. They invite us to see personality written into faith’s multiple ‘variations’ and the loose ends in faith part of its power. As scholars have seen, it may be no accident The Art of the Fugue was unfinished. As Austro-Hungarian Princeton logician Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) later argued, ‘incompleteness’ has systemic, disruptive power; or, as Bach may have also wanted us to register, to leave such a work ‘unfinished’ is to admit provisionality in human achievement and express appropriate humility before mystery. Seen in this light, faith is (pace Plato) mere artifice if simply focussed on earthly ‘forms’, but it becomes triumphing trust if inspired by transcendent ‘ideals’. And, surely, it is the latter, not the former, that can really redeem the mess – any mess – we may find ourselves in.

Goran Ivanišević (b. 1971)

Faith comes in many forms and is expressed in many ways. Like one of composers J. S. Bach (1685-1750) or Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) famous (and numerous!) ‘Fugues’, faith has an essential form and potential for variants. At root it may be, as the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews puts it, ‘[B]eing sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’ (11.1), but that’s not the end of it. Following Hebrews, we may hear in the original ‘melody’ a deep sense of conviction – despite (at times) any substantiating evidence – or a sustained, and sustaining, capacity to penetrate presenting problems to attain higher possibilities, but this fugal heart to ‘faith’ finds expression in a plethora of practical and spiritual ‘variations’. I don’t just mean faith finds form in different religions or enculturated spiritualities: faith is placed in medics and science, in tight-ropes and chairs, in markets and gurus, in theories and friends. It is also seen in a climber’s iron will to conquer a summit and an athlete’s tireless campaign to improve their PB and win next time. In arguably one of the most memorable sporting invocations of God and the power of faith, the giant Croatian left-hander Goran Ivanišević (b. 1971) said – after defeating Britain’s Tim Henman (b. 1974)! – en route to his 2001 Wimbledon victory, ‘This is God wanting me to win this year.’ We may pull a face at Ivanišević’s ‘variation’ and question its creedal, fugal, original, but few people then, or now, doubt ‘faith’ infused his game and inspired the (unseeded) champion’s victory – especially after three previous Finals’ defeats (1992, 1994, 1998)! Faith overcomes. It refuses to lie down. If floored, it gets up again. If tested and tried, it looks for a way through. And before we sit in judgment on ‘variations’ that make us squirm, we should give others free rein to challenge our trust in tea-leaves and tarot, crystals and aromatics, hair dye and ‘Breathing’, analysts and our favourite political pundit. Faith comes in many forms. In truth, the issue more-often-than-not is not whether we exercise faith but in what we put our trust.

Second, the meaning and application of the word ‘fugue’ (Lat. fuga; Lit. flight, rout, escape) is not restricted to musicology. This ‘name’ has rich psychiatric connotations. It is used of flights of fantasy and loss of self-awareness, of internal (or epileptic) dislocation and the hysteria this may cause. We might say much on this but focus on two points: a. the ‘fugue’ we choose as the central motif to our ‘variations’ on ‘faith’ may be no more than a flight of fantasy, or worse the cause and consequence of loss of self-awareness. If we are not careful ‘faith’ can lead us to believe silly things and do some very silly things. We forget ourselves, or, worse, come to believe in ourselves! We rely on horoscopes and politician’s promises, we trust in material, sexual and physical satisfaction, we are certain of a nation’s military intentions and invulnerability: from all such, messes derive. When faith, focused on what really matters, offers so much more; b. a dissociative ‘fugue’ or ‘fugue state’ is temporary. A person forgets who, or where they are, but then they remember. Disorientation and amnesia pass. Clarity returns. Though it’s estimated 85% of the world interpret reality through some kind of ‘spiritual’ lens, sceptics and atheistic critics of religious faith rush to mock or dismiss it as a neurosis or ‘crutch’. However, psychiatric use of the term ‘fugue’ reminds us to check we ourselves aren’t guilty of intellectual ‘dissociation’, denying what a majority do not doubt.

Hope in the time of war

If our mess is redeemed by ‘faith’, it is also transfigured by ‘hope’, that other melody in life with multiple ‘variations’. Much has been made of hope philosophically and theologically since the Jewish Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) published his 3-volume masterpiece Das Prinzip Hoffnung (ET The Principle of Hope; 1954, 1955, 1959). Drawing deeply on Hebrew history and the philosophy of (G. W.) Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and Karl Marx (1818-1883), on medieval apocalypticism and radical religious thinkers such as Thomas Müntzer (ca. 1489-1525), Paracelsus (d. 1541) and Jacob Böhme (1575-1624), and on a broad range of intellectual and literary friends such as the Hungarian Marxist György Lukács (1885-1971), the poet-playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950), the Jewish Idealist-Romantic philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) and the sociological critique of the German polymath Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969), Bloch sets hope, and the incipient utopianism he discerns in art, literature, religion and culture, at the epicentre of humanity’s intellectual, spiritual and cultural evolution. Written before and after World War II, Bloch’s magnum opus was, and is, an indictment of life and history that lacks the transformative, and transfiguring, power of hope. But, like the Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s (1927-2014) choice of the term ‘cólera’ (Lit. cholera or passion), in his award-winning Love in the Time of Cholera (Spanish: El amor en los tiempos del cólera, 1985; ET 1988), there is bitter ambiguity in Bloch’s appeal to ‘hope’, just as there is in Márquez’s account of love. In both writers, the true reality of life is revealed at its end; in both, human frailty of every kind is an inevitable element in human relationships and attainment. The historical and psychological realism in both authors ensures their ‘fugal’ themes of ‘hope’ and ‘love’ have all too human ‘variations’ recognizable by us all. It is hope, we might argue, in, and for, this time of war, or whatever other mess we get ourselves in.

Ernst Bloch (1885-1977)

But perhaps you wonder, as I do, how Bloch’s earthbound ‘hope’ can really redeem reality and provide a way out of our mess? It is a good question, and one I echo. To a Marxist atheist like Bloch, humanity and historical ‘process’ are the only tangible and intelligible bases for hope. This might be an attractive option were it not for humanity’s apparently insuppressible appetite for war and craving to conquer. Earthbound ‘hope’ offers much to the marginalised and oppressed: but, in reality, it is no more than a material ‘form’ of hope, when the desperate seek a more perfect ‘idea’ of hope that transcends the here-and-now and, ideally,transforms it. It is telling that the literature and hymnody of Russian serfs and Caribbean slaves hope for more than broken chains: their focus and joy is the final hope of heavenly freedom. Or, as St Paul wrote to 1st-century Christian slaves of resurrection hope and the redeeming love of God in Christ, ‘Hope does not disappoint us’ (Romans 5.5). This hope, like faith, overcomes, refuses to lie down, if floored, gets up again, if tested and tried, looks for a way through. In the 46 times St Paul invokes ‘hope’, he isn’t commending blind optimism or wishful thinking, but rugged reliance on a reliable God who ‘raises the dead’ and is present in suffering. So, paradoxically, hope here ‘rejoices in suffering’ (Romans 12.9, 12). In the persecuted believer’s ‘time of war’, there is still an unshakeable ground for joy. But let’s be clear: the ‘variations’ here are not borne of human creativity, but divine action: they develop out of the ancient fugal ‘melody’ of God’s covenant faithfulness and love. Of course, there is always the option to turn away and look down, as Marx and Bloch did, into the dark waters of history and cultural, political, and social evolution, with their promise of utopia. Or we can look up and elsewhere for another ‘melody’ and set of eternal ‘variations’.

‘Emotional intelligence’: fact, fantasy, or power to change the world?

(Getty Images)

‘Faith’, ‘hope’, and now the much discussed, and oft maligned, gift of ‘emotional intelligence’: named first in the mid-1960s but celebrated more generally since publication in 1995 of science journalist Daniel Goleman’s (b. 1946) eponymous book Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ. Goleman’s original, inclusive, interpretation and use of the term ‘emotional intelligence’ (EI) owes much to the pioneering American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s (1908-1970) work on variants of personality and need. Goleman also draws on subsequent development of the concept, value, and application of EI to different types of perception and intelligence. Here, the work of Cornell University’s Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Michael Beldoch (n.d.), German psychiatrist Hanscarl Leuner (1919-1996) and Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner (b. 1943) have all played a key role. Goleman’s work – and the many in management studies who revere him – seeks to identify characteristics that are common to effective leaders; specifically, their ability to read themselves and others, and the issues and crises they face, accurately and to successful professional ends.

Daniel Goleman (b. 1946) (World Economic Forum Michael Wuertenberg)

Goleman’s thinking has been taken forward. Others now distinguish between EI as a ‘trait’ that is sensitive to, and regulated by, self-understanding and emotional self-awareness (cf. the work of K. V. Petrides at University College, London) and as an emotional-intellectual ‘ability’ to digest ‘affective’ data and deploy it effectively in social and professional contexts (as in the collaborative work by Yale University President Peter Salovey and University of New Hampshire professor John D. Mayer). Salovey and Mayer locate EI as a subset of social intelligence. Here is their definition: ‘[T]he ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior’ (1990: 189). Whether or not this ability should be categorised as a type of intelligence is still disputed, recognition of the importance of emotional perception is not: it is as old as Aristotle (384-322 BCE), whose Nichomachean Ethics states, with characteristic acuity: ‘Those who are not angry at the things they should be angry at are thought to be fools, and so are those who are not angry in the right way at the right time, or with the right persons; for such a man is thought not to feel things nor to be pained by them, and, since he does not get angry, he is thought unlikely to defend himself’ (Bk 4.5, Bekker ed., 1126a). Modern minds and new methods may have refined the idea, but the ideal of a person deploying sense to discern sentiment is neither new nor lacking weighty intellectual justification. We devalue or ignore it at our peril.

Why profile emotional intelligence at the end of another professional year? Because it is – however defined – the kind of practical resource more of us urgently need as we wrestle with the complexities of management and diplomacy, leadership and family life. Faith and its ‘variations’, like hope in the time of war, can help lift our eyes up and beyond ourselves. Emotional intelligence enables us to look down into, and understand, ourselves and others, not to paralyse or criticise, but to empathise and sympathise and thereby realise potential we may never have seen or imagined before. Lest this suggest a resource that is saccharine and spineless, let me invite you again to think of a world without faith, hope and emotional intelligence. Alas, it is all too familiar. Without emotional intelligence leaders misread their workforce or project malign motivation where none exists, they repeat mistakes or believe they hold the keys to happiness and human flourishing, they brutalise the weak imagining it demonstrates strength or blame others for their own mistakes. Emotional intelligence finds possibility and opportunity, meaning and depth, motivation and weakness. It reads beyond the immediate to the ultimate. It continually asks, ‘What was really going on then?’ It looks for more reasons for President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, for China’s present tetchiness, for the rise of populism and the prevalence of depression, for use and abuse of the world’s natural resources and the perverse ideals of religious fanatics and manipulative media moguls. Yes, like faith and hope emotional intelligence overcomes, refuses to lie down, if floored, gets up again, if tested and tried, looks for a way through. A gift to a world, and an invaluable resource to read and transform ‘just another year’? Yes, absolutely! As the Book of Proverbs pointedly urges, ‘The wise in heart are called discerning’, adding lest we forget, ‘and gracious words promote instruction’ (16.21).

Christopher Hancock, Director

[1] In musical notation at the time this represents the notes B-flat, A, C and B-natural.