Just when I think that I have escaped my work world for the day, here I am lying on my couch weeping while watching Dancing With The Stars. Apolo Anton Ono, Olympic speed skater and his partner Karina Smirnoff have just danced to the Rascal Flatts song “Sara Beth”. For those of you who don’t know the song, here’s a little sample for you:
“Six chances in ten it won’t come back again
But with the therapy we’re gonna try
It’s just been approved it’s the strongest there is
But I think we caught it in time
Sara Beth closes her eyes
And she dreams she’s dancin’ around and around
Without any cares
And her very first love
Is holding her close
And the soft wind is blowing her hair.”
The dance starts with Karina on the floor, her gauzy blue gown puddled around her on a dimly lit stage. Apolo lifts her up and they begin a slow waltz. As I watch, I am overcome with sadness as this thin slip of a girl dances away her cancer, her long hair about to be lost. And then, the lights go on and the crowd cheers and I am reminded of a conversation that I heard on Saturday night.
My husband and I had gone downtown to see a play at the San Diego Repertory Theater about the protest music of the 1960’s. We went early because there was a lecture and discussion between the director of the play, Todd Salovey, and his brother Peter Salovey, who just before Thanksgiving had been named the new President of Yale University. Professor Peter Salovey had given the opening address to my daughter’s incoming freshman class at Yale in September of 2002. The talk was quite memorable because he had just described and written a book about a concept called “emotional intelligence”, roughly defined as the ability to recognize, empathize with and respond correctly to emotions exhibited by others. In the world of psychology, this was BIG, because it explained that IQ, or intelligence quotient, is only one ingredient to successfully navigating life, career and relationships. Emotional intelligence, or EQ is the other essential. If you lack it, you are in trouble.
In the discussion Saturday night, Professor Salovey was asked two questions: first, is it possible to quantitatively measure emotional intelligence. The answer was “yes, it is.” The measurement device is a validated 45 minute test called the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), administered to persons over 17 years old. The second question was even more important, and relevant to the practice of medicine: is it possible to IMPROVE one’s emotional intelligence, and if so, how? The answer was surprising. One way, and perhaps the best way, to improve emotional intelligence is to practice “feeling” through art. Listening to music, going to plays, watching a comedy on television, seeing an exhibit—all of these things are designed to elicit powerful emotions. Apparently, the older we become (unlike the IQ test where sadly, we peak out in our early twenties), the more life experience we have, and the more just plain practice we get, the better we become at expressing and interpreting emotion.
Our cancer center takes a very holistic approach to curing cancer and I can take no credit for that—the medical oncologists who started the practice there have long been committed to offering complementary therapies such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy. One of my patients told me on Monday just how much she is enjoying these ancillary services, especially the art classes. She told me that they help her deal with the emotional trauma of being diagnosed with cancer. As it turns out, if you want your children to be empathetic and able to read the signals of others, you might want to hand them paint, brushes and an empty canvas, or a camera, or clay to model or a musical instrument or a pencil and a blank book to write in. And of course, get them a puppy to love. As for me, I got a good dose of emotion tonight on DWTS. And if I find myself lacking, there’s always “Grey’s Anatomy” on Thursday!