(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
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As a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of this room – the original sanctuary here, and as the first Sunday of Women’s History Month, it’s appropriate to remember not only the contributions of all who’ve been here over those years, but to specifically remember women who have ministered, served, and led here. There have been three female ministers to this congregation since 1968 when this room was dedicated. In 1979, Rev. Shirley Ann Ranck became the first minister at Northern Hills, and the first female minister to preach in this room. Rev. Sharon Dittmar served here in the late 1990’s for several years and then in 2012 Rev. Joan Kahn-Schneider began her service at Northern Hills.
The legacies of these women are a vital part of our history, but they also highlight the emergence of women as leaders in our nation and particularly in Unitarian Universalism. Fifty years ago, women accounted for less than seven percent of all UUA ministers. By 1979, when Rev. Ranck became NHF’s first minister, the number of female ministers in the UUA was nearly 20%. Today, women comprise a majority of UUA ministers. The current President of the UUA is Rev. Susan Frederick Gray, elected last year as the first ever female leader of our denomination. The UUA is thus one of the very few significant spiritual organizations in the world that is mostly ministered to, and led by, women. And this congregation, over the last fifty years, added its voice and its assistance to realize that achievement.
Within these walls, this congregation has also been substantially led by lay women. Many women here have served in major leadership positions at GNH, NHF and the former Gathering – facilitating committees, serving on the Board, or being Board President.
My intention is not to diminish the contributions of men in our past and present, but rather to underline the fact that within the UUA and this congregation over the last fifty years, women significantly served and achieved parity – if not superiority – to men. And that, in my opinion, is a very good, and very unique thing in women’s history.
That brings me to my message topic this morning and to my message series theme this month – both as ways to honor Women’s History month. A recent Pew research poll, published by the Harvard Business Review, of 64,000 people in 53 nations around world, identified ten qualities desired in leaders of government, business, spiritual and charitable organizations. Out of those ten qualities, including ones like reasonableness, flexibility, looking forward, collaboration and emotional intelligence, only one was identified by those 64,000 people as a mostly male characteristic – being resilient. The other nine were all identified as being mostly feminine. The implications of this poll are clear. A huge majority of humans want mostly feminine qualities to be what rules our nations, and our world.
And my topic today, to examine emotional intelligence, is the number one quality desired in leaders. Not surprisingly, it is also the primary factor the UUA uses in determining the fitness of candidates for ministry. A UUA assessment of a ministry candidate asks, Is a person empathetic? Does she or he exhibit forbearance – the ability to control one’s emotions when provoked? Is the person both self-aware of strengths, weaknesses and how to best use or improve them? Is she or he appropriately humble and willing to take responsibility for mistakes? Is grace offered when others make a mistake? Is one aware of her or his emotional triggers, how to watch out for them and ways to mitigate them when they happen?
All of those qualities that the UUA believes are critical for ministry, except one, are identified as mostly feminine in an emotional intelligence test frequently given to job candidates for major organizations. Out of twelve emotional intelligence qualities tested for, the only one considered a mostly male quality is self-control. Perhaps it is no wonder, therefore, that the UUA is now a female majority led organization since it intentionally seeks ministers who have a healthy level of emotional intelligence.
A number of studies have proven the wisdom of female ascendance in the UUA. Possessing strong emotional intelligence, one study shows, is a more accurate predictor of success than is simple intelligence. Another study shows that organizations and businesses led by women are more successful. Emotional intelligence was also cited by Charles Darwin as a key element in the evolution and eventual predominance of homo-sapiens. Less evolved species on the human evolutionary spectrum likely lacked empathy, emotional awareness and self-control. Their emotions were likely governed by the primitive part of the mammalian brain – the amygdala – which causes the fight or flight response. That small organ at the base of the brain exists in each of us but it is our evolved awareness of how it affects us, and our learned ability to both control and express its feelings, that has been crucial to human survival and evolution. And women were the key agents in that evolutionary advantage.
Importantly, emotional intelligence is vital to our spirituality. How do we relate with others who are different from us? How caring and sensitive are we? How understanding, forgiving, and serving are we? Are we able to be inspired within our hearts and minds – and are we equally able to so inspire others? Can we cast visions not just of individual goodness, but of collective goodness?
Once again, numerous studies show that a majority of women have many or all of those abilities. While many men also possess some or all, less than half do – as results from emotional intelligence tests show. Because of that fact, psychologists and sociologists identify particular values as mostly feminine ones. That does not mean, however, that they stereotype all women as emotionally intelligent and all men as emotionally ignorant Neanderthals.
Even so, the social and hard sciences have conclusively shown that because more than half of all men are not emotionally proficient, societies suffer. Indeed, just two weeks ago our nation was reminded of a singular fact about mass shootings. The root cause of them is not mental illness or too many guns. Those, I believe, are symptoms that can and must be addressed, but they are not the foundational cause of this epidemic of random mass killing.
Since 1982, there have been 112 mass shootings in the US which are defined as causing 4 or more deaths without any relation to another crime – such as robbery. Of those 112, only three were perpetrated by a woman. The rest were all caused by males. That fact has mostly been ignored by activists and politicians. What we have in the US, and perhaps in the rest of the world, is toxic masculinity – which I assert is mostly characterized by a lack of emotional intelligence. Women get just as frustrated or angry as men. But a majority of women have developed, or have been taught, the emotional coping skills needed to successfully navigate through their feelings.
While men who are not proficient in emotional intelligence do not go out and randomly kill multiple innocent people, studies show a majority of men do lack the ability to fully understand their feelings, to express them in healthy ways, and to empathize with the emotions of others. When a teenage boy, like the recent Florida shooter, has a troubled youth, he most likely has no training to identify where his angry feelings come from, and how to appropriately express them. The Florida shooter resorted, like other troubled young men, to the only response he could understand – his amygdala prompt to flee or fight. Raised as a male, and conditioned by society to act in traditionally male ways, even the choice to flee was not an option. Fleeing is considered unmanly. So, the young man fought violently and lethally.
Once again, while all troubled men do not act violently, it is abundantly clear that how we teach and raise boys, and how we expect men to act throughout life, is often toxic for them and our culture. As a society, we tell boys and men they should be stoic, competitive, aggressive, and rarely show or express feelings of sadness, remorse or empathy. We elected a President who is a cartoon caricature of those qualities. We generally do not teach men to possess values that define emotional intelligence: caring, sensitivity, and an ability to express feelings in healthy ways.
I have to admit I am biased in these assertions. Without stereotyping, and based on both psychology and observation, many gay men do manifest these characteristics I just mentioned that are often considered feminine. In general, gay men are more expressive, sensitive and emotionally aware. Those qualities partially define me. Perhaps that’s a reason why I was drawn to ministry after working eighteen years in the business world – and feeling unfulfilled in a more aggressive and competitive environment.
Even so, as a boy and now as an adult, I sometimes hear advice that implies I act less as a man should supposedly act. Some friends tell me I can express my feelings too much. Others have said I can use my expression of feelings to manipulate. While those friendly admonishments could be correct, I don’t believe they are. I think they spring from the common, and often misogynistic belief that emotions are girly and bad, and that expressing them, even in limited ways, is equally as bad. How often do some men tell women they are too emotional, or that sharing their feelings is nothing more than a way to disingenuously get what they want? Since such things are told to women, they are also told to men perceived to be less than fully masculine.
My point is this: excessive or inappropriate emotional sharing is unhealthy in men and women. Nobody likes a persistent whiner. The Florida shooter inappropriately expressed his feelings. Some people inappropriately express their feelings toward spouses, colleagues, or fellow church members by yelling or being abusive.
The definition of emotional intelligence does NOT include suppressing one’s feelings. It does include learning and practicing cognitive skills on how to think and talk about emotions. We need to acquire friends and confidantes in whom we can share our feelings – knowing they will be non-judgmental. We need to learn strategies of meditation to reflect on our emotions. We also need to learn to wait in expressing our emotions so we can calm down. That involves an awareness of our emotional triggers so that when we feel anger or frustration, we do not immediately lash out with physical or verbal violence. We must instead express feelings honestly and directly, but with kindness. Any form of violence, including angry or insulting words, no matter how justified, are never appropriate especially for those who wish to practice spiritual ethics of love and respect.
Ultimately, both men and women should seek higher levels of emotional intelligence. It is the one form of intelligence that can be learned. Since emotional intelligence is essential, it’s been shown to be a mostly feminine characteristic, and a randomized poll of people around the world agree, then the logical conclusion is to embrace this feminine side of ourselves. Honest vulnerability, correctly expressed, does not make one weak. Knowing our emotions, giving voice to feelings, being sensitive to those of others, and being willing to emotionally heal ourselves and other people, these things make us ironically very strong. Which is more difficult, to react with impulsive anger, or to reflect, share and gently express? With that kind of strength, we hold the power to effectively solve problems. We can thereby help guide our families, workplaces and spiritual communities not with hard power – using bluster and aggression – but with soft power – using empathy and honest dialogue. Women’s History, and advances in the UUA, prove such soft power is by far the most successful.
I believe emotional intelligence, and the women and men who have practiced it within this fifty year old building, helped make the Gathering at Northern Hills what it is today. We are imperfect but deeply caring and wise people engaged in a journey to grow ourselves, so that we can then follow in the footsteps of all who have gone before in making the world more compassionate and just.
I wish you each much peace and joy.