At that age, I wasn’t exactly a model student. I was quite preoccupied, worrying about private matters at home, and tuned out much of what my teachers were saying. It was like the Charlie Brown cartoon when Snoopy the dog hears human language as “Wah wah wah.” So, my mediocre grades were nothing to write home about.
One day, I was given the IQ test, and the next day I was called into the Principal’s office. She frowned, and I thought, “Uh oh, what have I done now?” She gave me a lecture about how high my IQ was and what a disappointing, lazy underachiever I was. I couldn’t quite understand what she was talking about, but just sank deeper into worry. Since my IQ was high, supposedly I should be an A student. It would be years before I paid sufficient attention in school to move toward such a lofty goal.
But then, in eighth grade, my life changed forever. A short, rather hairy Italian woman in long dresses and clunky shoes smiled into my eyes, her little moustache turning upwards, and said gently, “Linda, I see how intelligent you are. In my class, I know you will do very well indeed.” In that moment, something inside me broke open. I would call it hope.
With newborn confidence, I began to try – for Mrs Palmisano’s sake. I couldn’t bear to disappoint her because she seemed to trust me. To my surprise, I started enjoying school. I became truly engaged for the first time. Perhaps without realizing it, my teacher had tapped into the secret to empowering an underachieving child – she gave me hope, courage, and confidence – three virtues that are the keys to success at any age. They led to a thirst for excellence which only grew stronger over the years. And yes, that year, I became an A student and later graduated from university with honours.
In recent years, a new concept of intelligence has emerged. Emotional Intelligence is described by Daniel Goleman and other authors as the ability to understand our emotions, name them, and then choose how to act on them, or not. It is a combination of self-awareness, self-discipline, and detachment. Studies show that people with high EI have much better mental health, exemplary job performance and more potent leadership skills. Later, Danah Zohar, Stephen Covey and Robert Emmons went on to describe Spiritual Intelligence as a more meaningful measure. It has to do with knowing what one believes in and values. It is being conscious of one’s virtues and choosing to practice them. It is a calling to give something back to the world, and giving our very best. There are two aspects of Spiritual Intelligence that resonate deeply for me:
1. The ability to sanctify everyday experience
2. The capacity to be virtuous, to act with wisdom and compassion
Every time we tap into our compassion, perform an act of kindness, or call on faith and courage to humbly receive a life lesson, we develop our intelligence quotient. Just as one teacher with one smile, in one moment of kindness changed my life, you never know when one act of yours just might change the world. So let’s all smarten up – one day, one moment, one virtuous act at a time.