Thursday, January 11, 2018

Reflections: Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence
Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence should be required reading for professionals; at least, the first half or so of the book should be required. Of the many concepts, theories, and models I've read about thus far that relates to the business worldor social competence in generalI find very few as or more important than emotional intelligence. In many ways, I see emotional intelligence as the misunderstood element for many individuals' stalled progression or even their rapid development. I think Goleman makes a compelling case in his book; albeit, like many other books of its kind, it meanders toward its end and could have benefited from some additional editing.

Let me first address the major problem with the book. Very similar to Thinking, Fast and Slow (or vice versa), Emotional Intelligence begins with a compelling case for its central concept. I was enthralled by Goleman's persuasive plea to take emotional intelligence seriously and how it can dramatically change (perhaps even transform) our intra-personal and interpersonal interactions. But then the book keeps going and going, and eventually becomesjust like Thinking, Fast and Slowa greatest hits of psychology research and psychological disorders. Granted, Goleman does his best to tie it back into emotional intelligence and how it can ameliorate the human condition, but I didn't feel a large portion of the second half of the book added much to his original argument. Having said that, I still believe Emotional Intelligence is absolutely worth readingall of it. What may not have been particularly interesting to me may be very consequential for another reader in search of a better way.

So what did I love about the book? I am convinced emotional intelligence is a desperately needed competency in the world of business and family (and everywhere else). We are emotional creatures, and we are so often driven to act (mostly react) in unhealthy and less productive ways and we struggle to know why. The concept of emotional intelligence answers some of those important questions. By first knowing we are not only being affected by our emotions in a consequential way but we can also take control of seemingly runaway impulses could do a great deal of good for all of humanity, to say nothing about the average professional. As Goleman wrote: "There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse." What a powerful concept! It should not be overlooked.

Golemanlike all academicsstands on the shoulders of those who came before, such as Howard Gardner. We see today thoseCarol Dweck, Angela Duckworthwho are standing on Goleman and others' shoulders. Growth mindsetan impressively powerful ideais hardly new. Although not called "growth mindset" in Emotional Intelligence, the principles and foundational evidence is all there. Admittedly, I have a powerful bias toward those concepts which seem to empower and confirm the agency of individuals. Emotional intelligence, growth mindset, gritthey all do so, and I find them infinitely more helpful to the average person and professional than opposing fatalistic worldviews. The good news of Goleman's Emotional Intelligence is not just that we can understand our emotions, but that we can learn to tame, bridle, and leverage them for our own success and satisfaction: "A life without passion would be a dull wasteland of neutrality, cut off and isolated from the richness of life itself" (Goleman).

Although I believe the length of the book hurts the overall argument, I still feel Emotional Intelligence is requisite reading for anyone seeking to elevate themselves into a new and heightened level of maturity and sensibility. Although IQ is still an important factor in an individual's lifea fact admitted and attested to by Goleman—it should be very, very apparent that being extremely smart is hardly a panacea for life's difficulties. To quote Goleman again: "The brightest among us can founder on the shoals of unbridled passions and unruly impulses." To use common vernacular, to be truly intelligent, we need not only our heads but also our hearts.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Thinking, Fast and Slow
Reflections: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverance
Reflections: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Best Books of 2017

2017 was a good, bad, and an ugly year for my reading.

First for the ugly. I spent a lot of time working on a professional certification which required a great deal of reading. My preparations for the certification squeezed much of my normal reading time to almost nothing for several months. Although a great exercise and hopefully (I haven't quite received the certification yet) a significant boost for my career, I was very eager to re-implement my normal reading habits and keep moving toward my annual and lifetime reading goals.

And for the good. Even with the loss of several months of reading, I was still able to read 23 books this year. With an annual goal of 24, I was very pleased with my efforts. In fact, I almost did reach my goal of 24 but finished Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence on January 2nd, 2018. So close. One of the contributing factors for my reading success in 2017 despite the lack of additional time was my previous decision to start reading business-related books. I have made it a habit to read several pages of a book related to professionalism and business the beginning of each work day once I arrive in the office. This habit helped me complete books like Good to Great, Outliers, Grit, and a few others. Although initially hesitant, I have found a lot of value in reading these types of books and am genuinely excited to continue.

And the bad? Well, fiction continues to be a fickle endeavor. 2016 was an incredible year for fiction, thankfully. 2017 was inconsistent. There were several stand-out books, including: Following the Strandline, The Great Divorce, and The Illiad. I don't want to overstate the case, however, and make it seem like the other works of fiction I read were barren narrative diversions. The ideas of "psychohistory" in Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation has lingered in my mind. It's a vexing and seductive idea; one I won't forget. Thoughtful fiction, even when I don't necessarily enjoy it to the extent I would like, can provide plenty to explore and debate.

And now for my favorite books of 2017.

Non-Fiction: The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon

The Caped Crusade
My favorite non-fiction surprised me. For as long as I could remember, I have loved Batman. The irony is that I never loved comic books. I very well could have if I was exposed to comic books earlier in life, but it never quite happened. Reading a book about Batman seemed like an odd idea in a way since I have always known Batman through television and movies. I was shocked how fascinating I found The Caped Crusade to be. I felt the book not only chronicled how a beloved cultural character is created and is adapted for successive generations but more importantly how those generations interact with the character. What does that character come to mean? Why? How do individuals' identities become entangled with a fictive and fantastical crime fighter?

Batman is not nearly interesting enough to demand and sustain an exploratory non-fiction book on his own meritsat least not without a talented author. Luckily for the Dark Knight Glen Weldon is a very talented and shrewd writer. He writes with conviction but also with a bridled passion; something desperately needed in a cultural environment which thrives on conflict, ad hominem attacks, and an embarrassing inability to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Weldon, I felt, showed a lovely middle path of rational and objective debate—even when it's about some of our most treasured stories.

Fiction: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

The Great Divorce
What makes a great work of fiction? I feel like I would usually have a confident answer to that question. The Great Divorce broke some of my expectations of what great fiction can or should be; in fact, narratively there isn't much to it. Yet, I don't think Lewisthe masterful and incomparable Christian thinker and observercould have expressed the thoughts, feelings, and conclusions he does in The Great Divorce through a traditional or typical work of commentary. There is something emotionally compelling about fiction which speaks to the soul as much as the head. The Great Divorce does both.

Aside from the uncanny connection between Latter-day Saint doctrine and the ideas explored in the book, it felt familiar; it felt true. Focusing on the souls of those who have ended their mortal experience physically but not spiritually, Lewis expertly investigates some of our most entrenched human compulsions, desires, and appetites. The "divorce" referenced in the title is the requisite detachment we must undergo in order to not just "go" to heaven but "experience" heaven. The point of the book is nicely summarized with the following statement: "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell." Although the book's theology is unquestionably Christian, the lessons are profoundly universal. Regardless of our religious faith, we all cling to earth and hell (or whatever else) far too often, not enjoying what is so clearly and happily in our grasp. The Great Divorce illuminates our condition, and I am a better person for it.

In addition, don't miss Emma and Adam's conversation about their favorite books they read in 2017.

Other Topics of Interest:
Best Books of 2011
Best Books of 2012
Best Books of 2013: Non-fiction
Best Books of 2013: Fiction
Best Books of 2014 
Best Books of 2015
Best Books of 2016

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Reflections: The Prophetic Book of Mormon

The Prophetic Book of Mormon
I recently completed the Book of Mormon again, as well as an additional reflection on that most remarkable and unique book. My writing and meditations, however, barely compare to Nibley's The Prophetic Book of Mormon. Admittedly Nibley's work was written and compiled over many years, but it shows how nearly inexhaustible the conversation can be regarding one of the most controversial and baffling religious texts ever written. The Prophetic Book of Mormon is the fourth volume of Nibley's Collected Works I have read (8th in the collection) and it is decidedly a memorable one.

From the onset, The Prophetic Book of Mormon provides some incredible historical insight related to the time, place, and culture the Book of Mormon emerged in. Hostility toward the book and its supposed translator was swift and rancorous. Nibleyusing his customary sharpnessdetails and disputes several of the most common explanations for the Book of Mormon. I was enthralled by what Joseph Smith's contemporary (and not so contemporary) critics had to say about him, the Book of Mormon, and the religion they created. (An excellent talkfrom a Latter-day Saint's perspectivewhich distills the several most common explanations for the Book of Mormon is Tad R. Callister's The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?) Furthermore, I was staggered by how similar some of the critiques against the Book of Mormon and the fledgling Mormon faith were when compared to today. Not much has changed and more than likely not much will.

In a surprising way, I was actually very challenged by The Prophetic Book of Mormon. And I don't mean by its density or complexity, which is to be expected while reading a Nibley book. Rather, I was challenged by some of Nibley's commentaries of Book of Mormon doctrine that strikes slightly against the standard Latter-day Saint cultural grain. For many years the majority of Latter-day Saints have been good and faithful free-market Republicans. From what I can gather about Nibley after reading this book, he probably stood outside of that tent. Nibley's assertion of what the Book of Mormon teaches about wealth was what I found most challenging and provocative. Many Latter-day Saints are quick to point out that wealth isn't the problem; it's amoral; it's what we do with it that counts. Nibley's rejoinder to the common outlook is piercing and persuasive. Wealth, after all, is a protuberant element of the Nephite's and sometimes Lamanite's ailing body politic and eventual downfallevery time. Is wealth far more dangerous than many Latter-day Saints admit?

There is, of course, so much more to enjoy in The Prophetic Book of Mormon, including the intriguing connections between the Book of Mormon text and the story it tells and other ancient texts and cultures. And the book does have its problems. As with some of the other volumes, several of the essays feel very redundant. Also, Nibley's writingsif not thoroughly reviewed and pared down by the authorcan meander and become superfluous. He sometimes makes his point convincingly and emphatically and then lingers on the topic for dozens of pages without adding much to his original point. Others could only wish to be so prolific, but he could have used a bit more editing.

The Prophetic Book of Mormon is replete with fascinating and challenging content and commentary related to the Book of Mormon. Nibley's intellect and insights continue to impress and inspire me. His enthusiastic defense of the book and its young translator is principled and academically admirable. Thankfully, of the 19 volumes in Nibley's collected works, several of them are dedicated specifically to the Book of Mormon, and I can't wait to read what else such a talented scholar had to say about it.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Old Testament and Related Studies
Reflections: Enoch the Prophet
Reflections: Temple and Cosmos

Sunday, December 31, 2017

What Are You Reading? Ep. 2

Emma and Adam share their favorite books they read in 2017.  What did you read this year?  What were your favorites?

Other Topics of Interest:
What Are You Reading? Ep. 1
400 Books
Thousander Must-Reads

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reflections: Following the Strandline

Following the Strandline
Following the Strandline is a flawed but powerful book. Author Linda L. Zern pushes her over-arching story along in a substantial and interesting way and perhaps the most exciting element of this book are the possibilities its conclusion presents. In completing the second book in the Strandline trilogy, it's obvious the author has more to say and the characters have more to do.

Following the Strandline has one major difficulty, which I believe manifests itself in a couple different ways. The book groans under the weight of the multitude of characters which populate it. From the first several pages, I was slightly confused as to who was who and where they were going. This difficulty mostly clears up after the initial incident and its subsequent consequences, but it was something that befogs several plot points and especially the motivationswhich seem a little dubious at timesof several of the characters. The list of characters is thinned out a bit by the end of the book (no spoilers!), and I hope this excess of characters doesn't weigh down the inevitable conclusion of the trilogy. Furthermore, with so many characters to attend to, several very interesting characterssuch as Tesla's fatherare given brief but absorbing moments to stand out and be noticed. I could have spent a lot more time with some of them, but the plot (and book length) demanded otherwise.

In addition, the many characters in large part have their own paths to tread, which makes perfect sense for a book full of conflict and one which is the second in a trilogy. Yet, with modern transportation and communication not being an easily accessible plot device, there is a lot of comings and goings, as was the case in the first book. Admittedly, there are very few wasted trips with critical character moments occurring as they attempt to travel from one place to another, but I found it a bit wearing. Once again, I'm hoping the story of the trilogy's conclusion will alleviate some of this plot-driven pressure and there won't be so many characters walking so many different ways.

The most memorable moments in Following the Strandline—similar to the first bookare all character-driven. The author has created an intimidating and insane villain in Myra. Her presence is felt more than seen, and it's much more unsettling that way. Piracy and slavery, not foreign to our modern world, would likely become an unavoidable consequence of an uncivilized world, but who would be the pirates is an interesting question. In Myra the author has offered an alternative vision of the worst of mankind (or womankind) which I found intriguing and unique. Returning characters, such as Tess and Parrish, have a strong presence, and Tessthe trilogy's main heroinehas an actual arc and progression of character; a small story element (sarcasm) too often abandoned by other story tellers. As mentioned before, the story in Following the Strandline actually goes somewhere and doesn't leave the reader patiently waiting to be driven to the next destination but failing to hit the gas pedal. In fact, the consequences of this story are irreversible. This is a great thingpowerful evenbut it only works, in my opinion, if the next book in the series doesn't focus on survival but on the reconstitution of civilization. In some ways, the sequel can't be a "prepper fiction" book. It must be about something more.

Of the many plot points and narrative directions the book takes, what I found the most interesting and even the most entertaining were the ideas the book implicitly and explicitly addresses. Take, for example, it's seemingly mixed message of feminism. I won't rehash the debates between femininity and masculinity here (Harvey Mansfield's book Manliness does a nice job of that); rather, I'll simply mention that Following the Strandline poses some troubling possibilities for the sexes. Is cruelty more likely to be perpetuated by men or women? Perhaps when the lights turn off and don't turn back on, the answer to that question is a lot more muddled than we might realize. Furthermore, the book's introduction of civic society is an excellent springboard into a much, much larger and more complex world of ideas for the next installment. I would have preferred a more refined and attentive survey of those ideas in this book, but the author was clearly restricted by more pressing plot developments.

Following the Strandline is a great continuation of the Strandline trilogy.  I'm genuinely excited for where the series goes from here. If the next episode in the story grapples with some of the ideas and complexities I believe it will, I think it will be a fantastic conclusion to a very strong trilogy.

*The Thousander Club received an advanced reader copy.  

Other Topics of Interest:
Interview with Linda L. Zern - Following the Strandline
Reflections: Following the Strandline
Reflections: The Once and Future King