Reconsidering “The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite” by
Columnist David Brooks in Relation to Emotional Intelligence and Consulting
For some time I have had a suspicion that the NYT’s Columnist, David Brooks, has been exposed to and even been trained in the leadership model of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Frequently he has written about the inadequacy of technical and IQ intelligence when it leaves out the human connection, the sense of community, and the concern for others close by and in the larger population.
This is certainly the case in his opinion piece last year “The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite.” To read the full article, please go to https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/28/opinion/failure-educated-elite.html.
Brooks’ initial theme is that over the past generations we have moved from a system based on birth (White, Male, Protestant) to one based on talent. We opened our educational and corporate institutions to an egalitarian, boomer ethos that was socially committed to fairness, social consciousness, and to ending bigotry. And this is good. But Brooks goes on to say:
“A narrative is emerging. It is that the new meritocratic aristocracy has come to look like every other aristocracy. The members of the educated class use their intellectual, financial, and social advantages to pass down privilege to their children, creating a hereditary elite that is ever more insulated from the rest of society. We need to build a meritocracy that is true to its values, truly open to all. . . But the narrative is insufficient. The real problem with the modern meritocracy can be found in the ideology of meritocracy itself. Meritocracy is a system built on the maximization of individual talent, and that system unwittingly encourages several ruinous beliefs.”
What I gain from his article is that we have so focused on the individual that we have lost a sense of community. That results in only seeing one’s worth or value to society in relationship to others.
Here is where I connect Emotional Intelligence with Brooks’ fine opinion piece. I am listing his five “Ruinous Beliefs” and, in bold, indicating how each belief relates to one of the EQ Competencies (listed in bold).
David Brooks says that we have developed these ruinous beliefs:
Exaggerated faith in intelligence - “Today’s educated establishment is still selected on the basis of I.Q. High IQ correlates with career success but is not the crucial quality required for civic leadership.” An EQ Competency - Emotional self-awareness: the ability to understand our own emotions and their effects on our performance.
Misplaced faith in autonomy – Our youth are urged to go on . . . “a solitary unencumbered journey through life toward success. If you build a society upon this metaphor you will wind up with a society high in narcissism and low in social connection.” An EQ Competency - Organizational awareness: the ability to read a group’s emotional currents and power relationships, identifying influencers, networks and dynamics.
Misplaced notion of the self – “If you base a society on a conception of the self that is about achievement, not character, you will wind up with a society that is demoralized; that puts little emphasis on the sorts of moral systems that create harmony within people . . .” An EQ Competency - Empathy: the ability to sense others’ feelings and perspectives, taking an active interest in their concerns and picking up cues to what is being felt and thought.
Inability to think institutionally – “The current generation sees institutions as things they pass through on the way to individual success.” Thus the work of the institutions such as Congress, educational systems, and yes, the Church, are blind to their social and community responsibility. An EQ Competency - Teamwork: the ability to work with others towards a shared goal; participating actively, sharing responsibility and rewards, and contributing to the capability of the team.
Misplaced idolization of diversity – “Diversity is a mid-point not an endpoint . . . Diversity for its own sake, without common telos is infinitely centrifugal and leads to social fragmentation.” Thus diversity becomes the focus as a concept and not as a means to a more inclusive society. An EQ Competency - Inspirational leadership: the ability to inspire and guide individuals and groups to get the job done, and to bring out the best in others.
Brooks concludes with this rather jarring comment: “Those dimwitted, stuck up blue bloods in the old establishment had something we meritocrats lack – a civic consciousness, a sense that we live life embedded in community and nation, and we owe a debt to community and nation, and that the essence of the admirable life is community before self.”
Is this not what we who strive for “Consulting Expertise” are about in our interaction and work with our clients?
C. Waite Maclin, M.Div