What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

 

 

Question: How is the green movement a mirage?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, my book, “Ecological Intelligence”, actually documents the rise of a new scientific discipline called industrial ecology, which is… which studies the point at which industrial systems impact ecosystems.  It’s industry into nature.  And it was developed in a collaboration by ecologists, industrial designers, industrial engineers, chemists and so on, who look in a very fine grain way how, for example, least ingredient in this product when it’s boiled at 2,000 degrees for 24 hours emits these particular pollutants, effects the workers in the vicinity in this way, does so and so to global warming.  In other words, what they have done is develop a very, very precise metric for how everything that we make and buy and use has a back story and a story going forward of huge myriad number of impacts that we have no idea about but… which we need to know because in a way, that’s the most important thing about them.  If you look at a glass bottle, it has, from their point of view, 1,959 discrete steps from beginning to end, each one of which can be assessed for environmental, health, and social impacts in multiple dimensions.  So if you take one thing from 1,959 and you improve it and you call it green, you still have 1,958 left.  So from that perspective, the green is a mirage.  I bought a t-shirt that’s organic cotton.  Well, it’s great that it’s organic cotton, everything we do in that direction helps.  Because it’s organic, they didn’t use chemical fertilizers, which means that they don’t have nitrogen running off into rivers and ponds, they don’t have eutrophication, they’re not killing lakes and so on.  They don’t use pesticides so they don’t put those poisons into the atmosphere.  But on the other hand, it’s a blue t-shirt, it’s a dyed t-shirt, and almost all textile dyes are carcinogens.  It’s been long known that workers in dye factories have a higher rate of leukemia.  So in one regard, it’s great.  Another regard, we have a lot more to take care of. 

 

 

Question: How can we better understand consumption?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, I didn’t really plan on writing this book.  It happen… It kind of overtook me because of a long-standing concern I’d had.  In the ‘80s, I wrote a book called “Vital Lies”.  It’s about self-deception and collusion.  And then, the forward to that book, I say the biggest collusion is that although we decry… At that time, it was… not global warming, it was acid rain, it was the inexorable destruction of the Amazon basin and so on.  What we don’t seem to connect is how the things we buy and use are driving that… those very problems.  And I said, you know, if we could know… if this hamburger came from beef that was raised on the cleared forest of the Amazon and another set of hamburger was organic and raised in a way that didn’t harm nature so much, we could make a wise choice but we couldn’t know then.  Then, in the last few years, I start to hear about new breakthroughs in information technology that allow us to know… as we’re about to buy something, that whole complex back story and have it summarize for us in a neat metric.  There’s something called Good Guide, guide, not guy, .com, which assesses the multitude of consumer products in terms of life cycle assessment, this sophisticated methodology, compares them… You know, you want to buy some shampoo, you want a shampoo that has the least chemicals of concern.  You know, it’s a kid shampoo, you worry about what you put on your kid’s hair.  Chemicals get absorbed in the body.  They become part of what’s called our body burden.  They accumulate and they seem to have a role in disease factors, turns out.  So you want to buy the safest shampoo.  There are 15 ingredients in shampoo… But those ingredients, now, have all been matched to findings in medical databases to see if, well, does this chemical cause cancer in rats, lab rats.  If it does, maybe you don’t want to put it on your kid, maybe you want the shampoo that has the least of this.  Good Guide ranks shampoos.  Also, another wonderful website called Skin Deep for personal care products.  They rank them in terms of which have the least chemicals of concern, which are the safest.  And we can know that now very simply as we’re about to buy something, which gives us a whole new kind of freedom.   

 

Question: Where is the environmental movement today?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, I think that the old kind of [IB] model of environmentalists versus big government, big business is really not functional, that we need to find a way… I was just with a remarkable Lama.  His name is Karmapa.  He’s talked about as maybe the successor to the Dalai Lama.  And he’s very involved in the environment.  And he came up with this symbol, which are 2 hands clasp like this, you know, man and nature.  But I think we also need environmentalists in industry in a synergistic fashion, working together.  And now, that we have the ability to help a multitude of individuals make better choices, they will shift market shares so that companies have to do the right thing.  We finally found the synergism.  

 

Question: Does Earth Day accomplish anything?

 

Daniel Goleman: I don’t think that Earth Day per se has a really very great positive direct impact.  I think what it does is raise in the collective awareness like Christmas or Halloween, that we all ought to be doing something right now, we should regard something, we should pay attention something in a certain way.  And with that collective awareness, comes all kinds of activities that can, specifically, have great impact on people, you know.  You know, our city for Earth Day, we’re doing a clean up of the meadow that has all the plastic bags or whatever.  Those concrete hands-on acts have a lot of impact on people who get involved in them.  But Earth Day per se, I think, is not that interesting.

 

Question: What threats do China and India pose to the planet?

 

Daniel Goleman: Always, always.  If we don’t do something and China and India had in… keep going in the trajectories they’re going on, no matter what we do in terms of trying to get them to change is not going to help because they, now, are emerging economies.  As in India, India, I think, is maybe even better off than China now.  It continues to grow even in this economy because it was insulative banking crisis.  Its banks aren’t in trouble.  Its businesses aren’t in trouble.  And its economy is still growing.  But the economy is growing in a kind of mindless way, the way our economy grew.  When I say mindless, I mean unheedful of impacts on human health, on environment, and on the people who make our stuff.  And I think we can help them get on the right track by developing these radical transparency systems, using them, which will drive the supply chain, which, to a large extent, is in India, is in China so that they emit less pollutants, so that they release fewer toxins into the local environment.  I think that’s one way we, in the 1st world, can help the 3rd world.  But there’s another way, and that is as people in 3rd world become more and more well-off, then they become middle class, upper middle class, they become their own 1st world.  People who have a 1st world life don’t want their kids to have the shampoo with the toxin.  In other words, they will start to mimic what we’ve done particularly if we can give them a system to deliver the information.  They want the better stuff for their families and so they’ll start doing it themselves. 

 

Question: Why is a smart consumer economy better than a post-consumer economy?

 

Daniel Goleman: Exactly.  I think that it’s naïve to think that we will get soon to a point where we don’t buy stuff.  I know someone who’s a Freegan.  She lives in a community in Portland or in Oregon, somewhere near Portland, where there’re a lot of other Freegans.  She’s in her 20s.  She doesn’t have a family.  She doesn’t have a job.  She, you know, dumpster dives for food.  She doesn’t take a car.  She will walk or ride a bike.  It’s a wonderful… In terms of her personal impact on the planet is great but for the rest of us who buy stuff, who have families, we don’t have that option.  So rather than a post-consumer society, it’s exactly what you said, we need a smart consumer society.  And now, we have the data at our fingertips that will help us do just that. 

 

Question: Is green an unaffordable luxury?

 

Daniel Goleman: Now, let me… Let me question the assumption of your question, underlying your question.  What you’re assuming is that it’s more expensive for the better product.  And that’s an easy assumption.  Most of us would think so.  And in fact, marketing has been such that we have come to expect that the premium product will be the better product including in eco… in the eco realm.  Actually, if you look at Skin Deep and you look at the 10 safest shampoos and the 10 worst shampoos, the single most expensive shampoo is among the 10 worst.  So it doesn’t really equate.  Also, as consumers shift, drive companies to upgrade the supply chain.  Businesses know how to make things cheaper, even better things cheaper.  One of the biggest players in this, by the way, is Wal-Mart.  Wal-Mart is using life cycle assessment to look at all of its house brands.  It has 4,700 plus house brands, tens of thousands of suppliers.  It is going to ask their… its suppliers to upgrade their ecological impacts.  Once they… Once Wal-Mart gets into the game, you’re going to find huge economies of scale in this very area.  So there maybe a higher price for some of this now but I don’t think it’ll be that way in the long run.  I also think, by the way, in terms of the present economy, that this maybe… finding… innovating the better alternative product maybe the… one of the biggest entrepreneurial opportunities for decades now.  In coming out of the slump, I think that this maybe one of the things that drives a recovery impact.  

 

Question: How can we make smart changes?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, I think the bottom line is that we can make the bottom line drive the planet in a better direction.  If we each take responsibility… I mean, if we… If each of us simply went to goodguide.com, took out the 10… list of the 10 things we buy most often every week, look at them and see if they’re the best alternative or if there’s a better one we can get and did that, and then told our friends why we had done what we done, put it on the Facebook or, you know, your e-mail list, whatever, and do something else, e-mail the company… Good Guide gives you the option in a single click to inform the company whose product you have bought are not bought, why you made that decision.  The more of us that do that, the stronger we will have leverage and the sooner to get companies to change how they do things.  So I 

think that all of us have a new kind of collective power.  I’m actually quite hopeful.  

 

Question: How will ecological intelligence transform the marketplace?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, I think this is, perhaps, the biggest breakthrough in environmental politics since I don’t know what.  Because all of a sudden, we can connect the impacts of everything we buy and know what they are instead of not knowing and therefore not having any say in the matter and we can… we can do 3 simple things, we can know the impacts of the stuff we buy, we can favor improvements, and we can tell other people what we’ve just done.  And if we do that, we will begin a market mechanism, I believe, that will ripple through supply chains and upgrade how people operate in business.  Because, as market share shifts, it changes the internal discussion in companies where, right now, there are some people who think, hey, we should be more sustainable in how we operate.  And your reply is, well, show me the business case, it’s not going to pay.  But as customers start to say, I care about this, I’m not going to buy this shampoo with carcinogen, I’m not going to buy your hamburger that’s destroying the Amazon, I’m not going to buy this… I’m not going to buy… I’m going to buy anything that’s better.  All of a sudden, what you’ve done is mobilized innovation, mobilized ways to improve things for business because that’s where the market is going.  So what it does is actually helped those of us who care about the environment, about our health, and our family’s health, about the conditions of the people who make our stuff, it helps us help people in companies do the right thing.  It’s kind of a virtuous cycle, you could call it.   

 

Question: What is emotional intelligence?

 

Daniel Goleman: Emotional intelligence refers to how well we handle ourselves and our relationships, the 4 domains.  Self-awareness, knowing what we’re feeling, why we’re feeling it, which is a basis of, for example, good intuition, good decision-making.  Also, it’s a moral compass.  Say, in part, is self-management, which means handling your distressing emotions in effective ways so that they don’t cripple you, they don’t get in the way of what you’re doing, and yet, attuning them… to them when you need to so that you learn what you must.  Every emotion has a function.  Also, [marshalling] positive emotions, getting ourselves, you know, involved, enthused about what we’re doing, aligning our actions with our passions.  The third is empathy, knowing what someone else is feeling.  And the fourth is putting that altogether in skilled relationship.  So that’s what I mean by emotional intelligence.  There’re many definitions out there. The part of the brain, it turns out, that supports emotional and social intelligence is actually the last circuitry of the brain to become anatomically mature.  And because the neuroplasticity of the brain shapes itself according to repeated experiences, so my argument is, hey, we should be teaching kids regularly overtime, in a systematic way, self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skill.  In fact, there, now, enough programs and they’ve been around enough in schools that they’re about to publish a huge meta analysis, looking at hundreds of schools and kids that had the program versus those that don’t.  Guess what?  All anti-social behavior, you know, disruption in class, find that… it goes down 10%.  Pro-social behavior, liking school, well-behave, up 10%.  Academic achievement scores, up 11%.  So it really pays.  Executive function, which is mediated by the prefrontal lobe, both helps you manage your emotions and helps you pay attention.  So as kids learn these skills, they also learn learning… basic learning skills.  I think that the fact that that was an argument was one thing that caught people’s attention.  Then, there was a little chapter on… called managing with heart, which argued that leaders who were sons of a bitch were actually defeating the company’s own mission.  And I think that made a lot of people happy because they work for people like that.  I don’t know… Some people gave it to other people because they thought they needed help in this domain.  I’m sure there’re a zillion reasons why people like the book.  

 

Question: Are we becoming more emotionally intelligent?

 

Daniel Goleman: I hope more.  I know IQ has been going up for a hundred years as children encounter more sophisticated cognitive environment as they grow.  I don’t know that we’re becoming more emotionally intelligent.  I like to hope we would but I think that the number of intergroup wars going on, the intergroup hatred going on, the, you know, levels of familial abuse, in other words, indicators of emotions out of control in dangerous ways don’t look that great, which is why I’m a very strong proponent of getting these social, emotional learning programs in every school worldwide.   

 

 

Question: Are women more emotionally intelligent than men?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, I get asked that question in a different way, which is, are women more emotionally intelligent than men?  And you have to remember that emotion intelligence is a range of abilities, self-awareness, emotional self-management, empathy, social skills.  Women tend to be better than men on average at empathy, particularly emotional empathy, sensing in the moment how the other person is feeling and also, at social skills, at keeping things feeling good between people in a group.  Men, on the other hand, tend to be better on average at self-confidence, particularly in group, and at managing distressing emotions.  But what’s very interesting is if you look at leaders who were in the top 10%, there’s no difference between the men and the women on any of those variables.  In other words, you have a whole human being.  So I would say that on average, there probably are differences men and women in this domain of ability.  But as people develop their skills, as people become more effective, they pick up strengths in areas that they need.   

 

 

Question: What cultures have the highest emotional intelligence?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, I think that emotional intelligence as a universal but it looks different in different places.  You know, Japan has a very rigid set of rules of social interaction, lots of subtleties.  Americans typically blender in to the Japanese system, don’t get what’s going on.  And, you know, it’s embarrassing but they wouldn’t recognize, necessarily, emotional intelligence in Japanese setting.  Brazil is a very different culture.  It’s very outgoing, you know, kind of like an Italian culture.  And so, it will look different there but I think the fundamentals 

Question: What is the relationship between emotional and ecological intelligence?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, there not really a strong segway from emotional intelligence, which has to do with how we handle ourselves personally and how we handle our relationships in ecology except for this.  One of the attributes of social intelligence, how we deal with each other… I was described years ago in a book by a philosopher named Martin Buber called “I and Thou”, he talks about 2 modes of relating.  One is an I-It mode, where, basically, you treat other people as an object not as a person.  And so, you… whatever you say is like sending bullets, you know, I’m going to tell you this, I’m going to tell you that, I’m going to tell you that and you don’t care how the other person takes it, how they’re responding.  The contrast to that is an I-You, where you’re tuned in, you empathize, and how that other person responds to what you say determines what you do and say next.  That’s rapport.  That’s where you have good chemistry.  Right now, the human species generally has an I-It relationship to earth.  And, I think, “Ecological Intelligence” is about changing that to an I-You relationship, to understanding the impacts that we’re having, caring about them, and doing something to improve them.

 

Question: What is the relationship between IQ and success?

 

Daniel Goleman: Yeah.  The key point is that the way we’ve been thinking about intelligence as just academic intelligence, just IQ, does us a great disservice.  Because IQ turns out to be a very strong predictor of what job you can get in hold.  But interestingly, once you’re in that job, you know, once you’re a lawyer, once you’re a nurse, once you’re a, you know, salesperson, it fails to predict how well you will do within that job.  Why?  Because then, what matters is how you handle yourself and how you handle your relationships.  Everybody else is as smart as you are.  So there’s a floor effect, basically, for IQ.  So what we should understand is that success in life, not just in career but in your personal life, depends to great extent on these set of abilities and because it does, we should pay attention to nurturing them, to helping kids get it right in the first place.   

 

Question: How can we improve our emotional intelligence?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, the biggest tip-off is do you find yourself repeating the same interpersonal disaster.  I keep going out with guys who do X and it ends horribly or, you know, I don’t know… I’m really good at what I do but I seem to get fired all the time, or whatever perplex there may be.  That’s a clue, for sure.  So, you know, any pattern of problems in the domain of human relationships is a good tip-off.   

 

 

Question: What can parents do?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, parents should realize their child’s main and first coach in this domain.  But you don’t have to make a big deal of it, you just have to be a good enough parent.  You have to attune.  You have to empathize.  You have to be concern.  You have to spend time.  Kids learn an enormous amount in this domain non-verbally.  They learn it by modeling.  There’s a set of neurons, actually, that are designed for this.  They’re called mirror neurons.  And mirror neurons activate in your own brain what you see in other person do and tend to feel.  And it appears that a huge amount of learning in… particularly in early childhood comes from a child just watching how the adults and the other kids in the environment are behaving.  And they take that and they model that.  So it… You don’t have… You know, just being a good human being helps a lot to raise your child to be a good human being.  And there are guides, there are books on how to raise an emotional intelligent child and so on.  And if you want to, you know, get into the specifics you can, it’s out there.  But you don’t really need to worry about it if you care and if you give your child time.

 

Question: What should corporate leaders understand about emotional intelligence?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, the classic problem is the 2 kinds of leadership.  They tend to be slightly rapid.  One is someone called the pace setter, who typically was a very gifted individual performer, the very good at the technical side of what they do, whatever that may be.  And because they’re so good, they get promoted to lead a team or a division.  And all of a sudden, the skill for which they were so good is no longer sufficient to the task at hand, which is dealing with people.  Leadership, what is leadership?  Leadership is influencing, persuading, motivating, listening, communicating.  None of those skills necessarily have to do with how good a software programmer you are, whatever the skill may be.  So pace setters tend to lead by example.  And they also tend to be perfectionists.  The thing about perfectionist is that no matter what they do, they see that it could be better, which is why they get so good, why they become the top of the game.  But you get that good by focusing on what’s wrong with what you did, not what’s right so you could learn to do better.  And they tend to look at other people, people they’re leading through the same lens of negativity.  So they give failing grades.  They don’t understand an intrinsic part of any leaders’ task is to help other people get better at what they do.  They just criticize.  So that… that doesn’t work.  The other is the kind of command and control kind of the military model.  I’m the boss, do it because I say so.  Think nothing, blowing up at people or humiliating them and so on.  And those 2 styles are disasters.  So very often, I’m asked to come to a company or I just was spent 2 days in London with the National Health Service there.  They have 2 million in the health service, with leaders at different levels, talking about leadership styles and what the emotional intelligent styles are and why… Particularly in health service, it’s important for leaders to be emotionally supportive so that the people who are at the frontlines, who really have to deliver and be there for patients have the emotional reserves themselves to do it and don’t get burned out.  

 

Question: What can leaders gain from being emotionally intelligent?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, what’s interesting to me is what it takes to lead sustainability in a company, particularly in a climate where you need to make a hard business case but you also need to persuade people that this is even worth doing.  And what we’re finding is that there’s a subset of emotional intelligent scales that typifies people who actually can take a company in that direction as a head of a division or so on.  And I find that fascinating and very important.  That’s a bridge between the work I’m doing on ecological intelligence, which, I think, we have to get to if we’re going to stop the inexorable movement toward destroying our own ecosystem.  You know, in… Our ancient ancestor was a single-cell bacteria that resembles pond scum.  At one point, these bacteria covered the earth.  It breathes hydrogen and exhale oxygen.  And there were so much of it that it tip the balance of the composition of air so much that it started to suffocate itself.  And life only survives because some of those bacteria evolved to breathe oxygen.  We’re, now, doing the same thing with… You know, the industrial chemicals were pouring into the environment, with global warming, which in the same inexorable way, seems headed toward shifting every ecosystem on the earth so it’s out of wack.  So we’re threatening our own survival again.  And the question is what will let us change?  It has to be a behavioral change.  We have to become… I think we have to become ecologically intelligent and maybe mix that with some emotional intelligence because we have to get other people to do it too.  And we have to persist in it.  And, I think, that’s really our great hope.   

 

Question: How can we compete more effectively?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, I’m not at Harvard anymore so I don’t see any applications.  I think you’re referring to my mentor, David B. McLaughlin who studied the drive… the achievement drive.  And, really, that morphed into looking at competence.  If you look at people who hold the same job and you have some way to assess performance objectively and you look at the stars, top 10% performance versus people who’re just mediocre, just at the average, there’s a way to do a systematic analysis of the capabilities or competencies that stars have that you don’t find at the average.  David McLaughlin was one of the developers of this.  Really, my work in emotional intelligence looks at that.  Because it turns out, particularly for leadership, most of the competencies that distinguish outstanding leaders have nothing to do with IQ, with academic intelligence.  They’re in this other domain.  Whether people are getting more competitive or not, more viciously competitive, I think people have always been viciously competitive.  However, people who are the most effective tend to be competitive in a different way.  They compete with themselves.  They… As I said, they have very high standards for performance.  And they’re continually trying to understand how to learn to do better.  And that’s the more effective way to compete.  Improve your own performance, not run against the other guy necessarily.    

 

Question: What is your critique of Malcolm Gladwell?

 

Daniel Goleman: Here’s the problem with Malcolm’s book.  You know, he talks about cohorts that have been privileged by accident, by experience.  But… One of them, for example, is, as I remember, Jewish lawyers who were born in the 1930s.  Some of them were spectacularly successful.  The problem is he didn’t take a sample of all Jewish lawyers born in the ‘30s.  There also certainly be failures among them.  And his model doesn’t really explain what distinguishes the failures from the outliers, which… So it’s a good beginning but, you know, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and then the book ended.  But Malcolm is a wonderful writer.  I really like the book.  

 

Question: Is social networking destroying emotional intelligence?

 

Daniel Goleman: In other words, I think the real danger to social intelligence is from technologies that call our attention away from the present, particularly the focus on the person we’re with.  There’s actually a new word in the English language that describes that moment when you’re with someone and they suddenly whip out their iPhone and go on Facebook or take a phone call and act as though you don’t exist, the word is pizzled.  It’s a combination of puzzled and pissed off.  I think we need that word.   

 

Question: What is flaming?

 

Daniel Goleman: Since the beginning of the Internet, when it was called the ARPANET, it was only scientists who are on it.  People have been familiar with the phenomenon called flaming.  Flaming is a spectacular moment of loss of emotional intelligence.  When someone is worked up, they’re agitated, they’re kind of hijacked by some emotion, and they sit down at their keyboard, they furiously type out a message to someone else and they hit send, and then they think, oh my God, what are they going to do when they get that.  That’s flaming.  And it happens because the human brain is designed for face-to-face interaction.  It picks up thousands and thousands of cues in a split second, that tell us how to fine tune what we’re about to do to how the person is reacting to us right now.  Online, there is no channel for this information.  What happens in the brain is that those social cues inhibit our emotions, don’t do that, do this.  Online, they’re disinhibited.  There’s no information coming in so our more, what shall I  say, our less desirable emotions can run rampant.  And that’s the danger online.  And I don’t… I don’t think that the human brain really has adapted to what online life does to us.  You know, it’s like an experimented progress.  What does it going to mean for our children, who spend how many hours of their lives alone, staring at a video screen, instead of out playing with other kids.  Turns out that by playing with other kids, the brain… The brain is designed to be shaped by kids playing together, not by kids staring at a video monitor or online.  So, you know, we’ll know the outcome in the future.

 

Question: Describe the work of the Dalai Lama

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, the book I wrote, “Destructive Emotions”, was about a 5-day meeting between the Dalai Lama and a group of neuroscientists.  He wanted to know what do science understand about destructive emotions.  He’s quite concerned about that because he sees how destructive emotions drive much of the human suffering on the planet right now.  So we had kind of compassionate motivation to understand.  And it’s very interesting because from the point of view of Western science, what makes an emotion destructive is not that any emotion is intrinsically destructive, every emotion has an evolutionary function, anger, anxiety, fear, joy, they all make us do things that can be highly functional and have great survival value.  But when distressing emotions are pushed to the point where we do harm to ourselves, and the other people, they become destructive.  The Dalai Lama said, “That’s interesting but I look at it in a different way.”  He said, “I think of a destructive emotion as any emotional state that destroys your inner balance, that upsets your equilibrium, and skews your perception of reality.”  It was a much more subtle standard.  And that created a very interesting discussion over 5 days.     

 

 

Question: What does meditation do for the brain?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, the Mind & Life Institute catalyze these experiments where high, you have to say, Olympic level meditators came to brain imaging labs in the West and have their brains studied while they did different meditation practices.  And what they’re finding is brain configurations that they’ve never seen before.  These are different brains.  For example, the left prefrontal cortex, just behind the forehead, is the center of positive emotions or part of the key… key part of the circuitry for that.  And when these monks meditate on compassion, it lights up, it activates to a level that just never seen in ordinary life.  And they’re finding, you know, a range of specific… state specific effects like this.  

 

 

Question: Is meditation the absence of thought?

 

Daniel Goleman: No.  Meditation is not absence of thought.  Meditation is the sustained effort to focus your attention in a certain way.  Thoughts will come, distract you.  What you do is return your mind to the point of focus.  And what that does is very similar to, like, working out on a natalist.  When you… Every time you return your mind, it’s like another rep on the natalist machine.  You’re strengthening your ability to attend to one thing and not be distracted by others.  So it’s mental training, basically.  It’s a mental gym.  

 

Question: What can eastern thought teach the west?

 

Daniel Goleman: There’s a village in the Himalayas in Tibet that has had about the same population in the same place under dire climatic conditions.  It’s very high and really cold much the time.  There’s no electricity, no heating.  People have lived there successfully for a thousand years.  How?  They’re very finely attuned to their environment.  Inuits, you know, in the Arctic circle, have lived for thousands of years very successfully.  Bushman live well in the desert very successfully.  All of these groups have high ecological intelligence.  They are highly sensitive to their own environment and they have learned how to adapt to it without destroying the environment so it persists over centuries.  And so, they can thrive.  That’s what we need to learn.  We have been modern people, have become deskilled in this.  We’re so out of touch with our environment.  We depend on artificial means, on heating, on cooling, on this, on that in order to survive.  If we were put in the Arctic, you know, in the outback in Africa or in a little village in Tibet and had to survive on our own resource, we probably die in a day or two.  So what we need to do is learn how to find equilibrium with our own ecosystem, which is a global one now and which we seem to be bent on destroying at present.

 

Question: What is the most transformational idea in ecological intelligence?

 

Daniel Goleman: Well, I think that in terms of ecological intelligence, the big idea is radical transparency.  Radical transparency is presenting to individuals the previously hidden impacts of the things they buy and do and giving them choice at that moment.  And it’s radical because it traces those impacts across the multitude of environmental, health, and social impacts.  And also, does it in a way where you can pair choices and can make a choice that makes a difference.  So I think radical transparency is the big idea.  Good Guide is an example of radical transparency, Skin Deep also.  That’s the big idea there.  I think the big idea in emotional intelligence is, you know, that there’s another very important way to be smart in life.

 

 

Big Think Interview With Da...

Newsletter: Share: