Behind the Veil
In 2005 I was Chairman of the first Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence Conference in the Middle East, a three-day program in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. I wrote this article on the last day of the conference, May 30, 2005.
We live in a time of turmoil and uncertainty and, if we accept the world that we see in
newspaper headlines, it is all too easy to forget that the vast majority of people in the
world are good, caring human beings just like us. When we meet as human beings — not as representatives of some clan or creed — there is vast common ground.
Preparing to go to the conference center, I am full of unease. I walk through the lobby
strewn with rose petals, and feel surrounded by men in white dishtash and women in
black abaya. I’ve worked with many Arabs and Muslims, but this is my first time in the
Gulf, and I find myself curious at the sight of all this traditional garb — and worried.
I move quickly through the hall and go back stage. At a conscious level, I am telling myself that I am worried about the conference logistics, that I am concerned the audience might not understand our work, that technical glitches might interfere with learning. But none of the technology is my responsibility, and I realize that I’m bothering the technicians as a way of hiding from all these strangers.
I realized I am afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid that I will not be accepted, that I will
be judged, that people will not listen – I often have fears like this at the beginning of a
program. Here, it is stronger because, underneath, I am also afraid I will be hated or held in contempt as a Jew and an American.
Unexamined, unrecognized, the fear is influencing me on an unconscious level – influencing me to hide away and to rationalize my behavior. Once I recognize that I am afraid, however, I can see what I am really doing and can make a choice. Especially in face of fear, it is difficult to make proactive choices.
Fortunately, in this work I have learned about a lever I can use to move myself past the fear: my sense of purpose.
I am deeply committed to co-creating an emotionally intelligent world, and I can’t do that hiding in the corner. Remembering my Noble Goal (“To inspire compassionate wisdom”) gives me the courage to act. I begin walking around the lobby speaking with some of these strangers.
They do not turn away.
I say ‘hello’ to three men wearing traditional Arab clothes. They are from Saudi Arabia. One must have noticed my effort to reach out past the fear, because he says, “Thank you for coming up to us, I guess this is part of emotional intelligence”. I hear his warmth and appreciation – he recognizes the effort, the risk, and there is something sparked between us. Maybe they too are a little afraid.
These fears are reinforced at many levels. For example, I happened to read an email
from my grandmother today saying, “I wish you could stay home from all those
dangerous places”. On a factual basis, the United Arab Emirates is one of the safest
countries in the world. Diverse, cosmopolitan, accepting, and with hardly any crime (and, in case you’re wondering, they don’t have extreme or violent penalties for crimes).
Yet, on an emotional level, many of us have such uncertainty, such fear of the unknown, about a place so different from home.
The conference kick-off is smooth. Daniel Goleman is live via satellite – and I find myself wishing he could see this room full of white-robed and black-robed delegates. He speaks about how we can influence one another on an emotional level as leaders and humans, and it seems so apropos to my experience today.
On the second day of the conference, the sense of connection gets even stronger. In my workshop on Leading with EQ, I share how we apply our Six Seconds model to business, and also to our personal and family lives. The group clearly sees the value of
these tools in leadership and life, and something happens beyond the content. We all interact with each other as people and talk; we share perspectives and feelings. From dialogue comes respect and tolerance, appreciation and acceptance.
On the final day in the closing session, the discussion turns to how emotional intelligence can help bridge the gaps between people – in organizations, relationships, communities, and nations. Many of the speakers and audience members have noticed, have felt, how we are no longer a group of unknown strangers.
Danah Zohar suggests that we commit to test the power of this kind of dialogue by
developing an EQ/SQ conference with Palestinians and Israelis attending together.
Following her theme, I challenge the audience and myself to consider the action we can each take to move past our fears. We can only truly access the power of our emotional and spiritual selves if we each begin with ourselves. I offer, “I would like to bring my children here”. I plan to say more, but I feel myself on the verge of tears, so I begin to call on someone else.
There is a table at the front reserved for women, all in traditional abaya and sheila (black gowns and veils). They’ve been nearly silent these three days, but now one calls
out, “Why?” “Why?” she repeats assertively, “Why do you want to bring your children here?”
“Because I want them to grow up knowing Arabs as good, caring people,” I say, “People with the same hopes and dreams we all hold. Because I do not want my two Jewish and
American children to grow afraid just because they do not know.”
Later I think to myself, “and because I want them to be friends with your children”.
The power of facing and voicing feelings, especially fears, is profound. Just expressing this fear I can feel the connection forming between us. At the next break, three different
men come speak to me: “When you come back to the Emirates,” each says, “I want you to come to my house so your children can play with my children”.
Over and over in my travels, I’ve found that, beneath the infinite variety of human complexity, beneath the cultures and nations, beneath the religions and rivalries,
beneath the differences, we are profoundly alike. I keep forgetting, and then I have these experiences to remind me. And, more and more, I am seeing that emotions are at the
heart of this similarity. A universal language that both bonds us and liberates us – if we will only find the courage to learn it more deeply, and use it more carefully.