How’s your coping intelligence?

Intelligence. If you’re like most people, when you run across this word you think of cognitive things like a good memory, large vocabulary, math ability, reading comprehension, and critical thinking skills – in general, you probably think of an intelligent person as someone who has a lot of knowledge in a variety of areas.

You probably don’t think of an intelligent person as one who is necessarily good at coping with stressors. Would you find the following comment contradictory? “Jim is one of the most intelligent guys I know, but he sure doesn’t know how to handle conflicts with others, or how to deal with anxiety! Put him in a stressful situation and he falls apart.” No contradiction at all, right?

Intuitively, most people separate cognitive abilities and coping abilities; the former deals with knowledge, the latter deals with emotions. In fact, in a 1964 paper, psychologists Davitz and Beldoch talked about emotional intelligence as different from cognitive intelligence. They linked the latter to cognitive abilities, but tied the former to effectiveness in social communication, especially the ability to empathize with others.

In the context of coping, your blog hosts use the term emotional intelligence to describe those who are “secure in their own skin.” These folks have healthy levels of self-esteem and feel empowered to be autonomous, independent, confident, and optimistic as they confront the challenges of daily life. Individuals with high emotional intelligence are good at accepting reality, taking responsibility for their actions, setting priorities, and navigating their way through the maze of stressors that regularly confront them.

Readers of this blog, however, will know that emotional intelligence is not the whole story when it comes to coping effectively with stress. Many people high in emotional intelligence appear to be pretty confident and secure – at least on the outside – as they tend to their needs. Unfortunately, they may leave a trail of human psychological carnage in their wake as they focus on their egotistical coping strategy that puts them at the center of it all. In their own minds they are coping well, but they do so with a lot of deception, manipulation, lying, cheating, and bullying.

“OK,” you ask, “if emotional intelligence by itself is no guarantee of effectively coping, what’s missing? What other traits are needed to use my emotional intelligence to cope in positive ways?” The answer to that question involves an intelligence that supplements Emotional: Moral Intelligence.

Coping with everyday life will be most effective when Emotional Intelligence is complemented by Moral Intelligence. How would we describe people with a healthy moral intelligence? They have values, standards, and a social conscience, which means they weigh their coping actions against the needs of others. “Embezzling money may be good for me financially, but others are going to suffer, so I choose not to embezzle.” That’s moral intelligence! If you have low moral intelligence, if you do not value others as dignified and worthy of courtesy and respect, you will have no problem cheating and manipulating them to satisfy your own greed.

Moral intelligence means having empathy for others, being able to understand how they are feeling. “If I insult and disparage others in the presence of their children, I may feel good, but I also show my total disregard for the pain I inflict on their offspring. As much as I dislike them, I will not disrespect them in the presence of their family.”

Here’s what we’re saying: You may have high emotional intelligence and feel really great about yourself. But if you have low moral intelligence and can only focus on you, if you must include yourself as the primary ingredient in your life coping recipe, ultimately your coping efforts will fail because you will leave behind a legacy of making others feel bad about themselves. Your legacy will be others who scowl at the very mention of your name.

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