Raise Your

Seven resolutions to help you become a high-EQ Asian American family.

by Alex Phoc


Raise Your Emotional IQ

he high marks Asian Americans get for emotional intelligence focus on our above-average academic and career attainments. In his bestselling Emotional Intelligence (Bantam Books, 1995) Daniel Goleman cites the fact that while the average IQ of Asian Americans is only 2-3 points above that of the American population, our achievements are commensurate with significantly higher IQ levels -- 110 for Japanese Americans and 120 for Chinese Americans. He credits this to traits like persistence and discipline, two key qualities he associates with emotional intelligence (which I'll call “EQ” here).


     That's only half of it. As a matter of reality Asian Americans must overcome much more than the usual obstacles. American society contains enough racists and proudly ignorant bigots that Asian Americans are routinely ambushed by gratuitous racial offenses and discrimination in everything from career opportunities to restaurant service. Coping effectively with those kinds of persistent background conflicts is a key element of EQ for Asian Americans.

     Goleman's EQ analysis is helpful in understanding why some people with high IQs derail while others with average IQs achieve outstanding success. Other qualities central to EQ, according to Goleman, are self-awareness and empathy. Overall, he sees emotional intelligence as being about four times as valuable as IQ in success. But the concept of emotional intelligence isn't new. It merely puts a new name on qualities that have been recognized for milennia as “wisdom”, “character”, and “grace”. Goleman's terminology has appeal in today's quantitatively-oriented culture, but the concept of emotion management or emotional control has always been recognized as the pillars of a successful life.

     For Asian Americans the notion of EQ must include the ability to cope with the special stresses and conflicts arising from our status in a society that has only lately begun to recognize that Asian Americans are entitled to be treated with equality, fairness and dignity. Even an Asian American with the EQ to meet the usual demands of success can become derailed unless he can cope effectively with these additional challenges.

     They typically take the form of emotional dilemmas. Here's an example. You have a nice home, drive nice cars and have kids who do well in school. This provokes envy and resentment. Some of the neighbors use racial slurs loudly enough for you to overhear. You would like to confront the offenders but your kids seem to be well accepted and you don't want to jeopardize their emotional security by becoming confrontational about race. At the same time you don't want your kids to grow up tacitly acquiescing to bigotry.

     Here's another example. You are successful in your career. Officially, you enjoy respect and even some status in the company. You have become aware that several colleagues have formed a clique dedicated to subjecting you to a steady stream of petty racial offenses. They murmur slurs like “chink” and “gook” as soon as you pass by or when your back is turned. They share jokes about Asians within earshot. You are having trouble keeping your anger in check and want to confront them but don't want to appear hostile and defensive to others with whom you enjoy positive relationships.

     These kinds of racial offenses mar the days of even the most successful and prominent Asians in America like Senator Daniel Inouye (“That little Jap.”), Houston Rockets star Yao Ming (gibberish mocking the Chinese language) and Dodgers Assistant General Manager Kim Ng (ditto), among a long list of others. I sometimes think of this as the “Asian American Tax”. Even those of us with exceptional emotional control can become angry, frustrated, bitter and depressed. I am convinced that the only way for Asian Americans to avoid falling victim to these additional emotional stresses is to adopt strategies that substitute positive, empowering responses for the negatives ones that can otherwise undermine us. Here are seven resolutions that embody these strategies.

1. I will accept and embrace the duality inherent in being an Asian American.

     The ability to function while simultaneously holding two contradictory truths is the sign of a first-rate intellect. That's one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's more profound observations. This is precisely the mental skill Asian Americans must cultivate in order to function effectively in American society. On the one hand, we know that we are Americans, with the legal and moral claim to be treated as such. On the other hand, we know that many of our fellow Americans see us as aliens regardless of our acculturation or the number of generations our families may have been here. We must somehow reconcile these two conflicting truths in order to meet the demands of professional and social life.

     One extreme is the person who fixates on the ideal of equality and turns each offense into grounds for a moral stand. This person would get so caught up in anger, frustration and bitterness that little or no energy would be available for the usual demands of professional, social and family life. PAGE 2

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“These kinds of racial offenses mar the days of even the most successful and prominent Asians in America.”


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