18 Behaviors of Emotionally Intelligent People

Emotional intelligence is a huge driver of success

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When emotional intelligence (EQ) first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into the broadly held assumption that IQ was the sole source of success.

Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.

Despite the significance of EQ, its intangible nature makes it difficult to measure and to know what to do to improve it if you’re lacking. You can always take a scientifically validated test, such as the one that comes with the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book, but unfortunately, most such tests aren’t free. So, I’ve analyzed the data from the million-plus people TalentSmart has tested in order to identify the behaviors that are the hallmarks of a high EQ. What follows are sure signs that you have a high EQ.

You have a robust emotional vocabulary

All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. Our research shows that only 36 percent of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions.

People with high EQs master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling “bad,” emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel “irritable,” “frustrated,” “downtrodden,” or “anxious.” The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it.

You’re curious about people

It doesn’t matter if they’re introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they’re going through, the more curiosity you’re going to have about them.

You embrace change

Emotionally intelligent people are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They look for change that is lurking just around the corner, and they form a plan of action should these changes occur.

You know your strengths and weaknesses

Emotionally intelligent people don’t just understand emotions; they know what they’re good at and what they’re terrible at. They also know who pushes their buttons and the environments (both situations and people) that enable them to succeed. Having a high EQ means you know your strengths and how to lean into and use them to your full advantage while keeping your weaknesses from holding you back.

You’re a good judge of character

Much of emotional intelligence comes down to social awareness; the ability to read other people, know what they’re about, and understand what they’re going through. Over time, this skill makes you an exceptional judge of character. People are no mystery to you. You know what they’re all about and understand their motivations, even those that lie hidden beneath the surface.

You are difficult to offend

If you have a firm grasp of who you are, it’s difficult for someone to say or do something that gets your goat. Emotionally intelligent people are self-confident and open-minded, which creates a pretty thick skin. You may even poke fun at yourself or let other people make jokes about you because you are able to mentally draw the line between humor and degradation.

You know how to say no (to yourself and others)

Emotional intelligence means knowing how to exert self-control. You delay gratification and avoid impulsive action. Research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Saying no is a major self-control challenge for many people, but “No” is a powerful word that you should unafraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.

You let go of mistakes

Emotionally intelligent people distance themselves from their mistakes, but do so without forgetting them. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to, they are able to adapt and adjust for future success. It takes refined self-awareness to walk this tightrope between dwelling and remembering. Dwelling too long on your mistakes makes you anxious and gun shy, while forgetting about them completely makes you bound to repeat them. The key to balance lies in your ability to transform failures into nuggets of improvement. This creates the tendency to get right back up every time you fall down.

You give and expect nothing in return

When someone gives you something spontaneously, without expecting anything in return, this leaves a powerful impression. For example, you might have an interesting conversation with someone about a book, and when you see them again a month later, you show up with the book in hand. Emotionally intelligent people build strong relationships because they are constantly thinking about others.

You don’t hold grudges

The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. When the threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when the threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your health.

You neutralize toxic people

Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting for most. But high-EQ individuals control their interactions with toxic people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, emotionally intelligent people are able to take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring them down.

You don’t seek perfection

Emotionally intelligent people won’t set perfection as their target because they know that it doesn’t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and should have done differently instead of moving forward, excited about what you’ve achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.

You appreciate what you have

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also improves your mood by reducing the stress hormone cortisol (in some cases by 23 percent). Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who work daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experience improved mood, energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol play a major role in this.

You disconnect

Taking regular time off the grid is a sign of a high EQ because it helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even–gulp!–turning off your phone gives your body and mind a break. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels. Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email with the power to bring your thinking (read: stressing) back to work can drop onto your phone at any moment.

You limit your caffeine intake

Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, which is the primary source of a fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response to ensure survival. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. Caffeine’s long half-life ensures you stay this way as it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body. High-EQ individuals know that caffeine is trouble, and they don’t let it get the better of them.

You get enough sleep

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams) so that you wake up alert and clearheaded. High-EQ individuals know that their self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when they don’t get enough–or the right kind–of sleep. So, they make sleep a top priority.

You stop negative self-talk in its tracks

The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that–thoughts, not facts. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural tendency to perceive threats (inflating the frequency or severity of an event). Emotionally intelligent people separate their thoughts from the facts in order to escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive, new outlook.

You won’t let anyone limit your joy

When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or snide remarks take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within.

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A famous British philosopher explains the surprising root of all procrastination

You tell your friend you can’t meet for drinks tonight because you’re too busy. You cancel your morning meeting because you’re already running late on completing your project.

Finally, you have a full day ahead of you. Hours pass and you have done plenty of things — but not the project that pushed you to push aside everything else.

Your boss and colleagues probably think you’re lazy, you figure. You think you’re lazy. You spend more time preparing for your project rather than beginning it.

The situation above may seem familiar. Sure, there are times when laziness is the reason for not getting something done, but more often the root of procrastination is fear, says British philosopher and author Alain de Botton on his website, The Book of Life.

“We begin to work only when the fear of doing nothing at all exceeds the fear of not doing it very well … And that can take time,” he writes.

The only way to overcome this habit, then, is to abandon the accompanying habit of perfectionism. Instead of wasting time planning around and preparing for your project, find a way to begin it. Do not fuss over details as you move forward.

An imperfectly done task is better than an unfinished task.

The Book of Life’s parent organization, The School of Life, produced a short animated video that outlines de Botton’s thoughts on the subject:

What Makes a Hero: Joseph Campbell’s Seminal Monomyth Model for the Eleven Stages of the Hero’s Journey, Animated

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“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward.”

Nearly four decades before Joseph Campbell(March 26, 1904–October 30, 1987) refined his enduring ideas on how to find your bliss and have fulfilling life, the legendary mythologist penned The Hero with a Thousand Faces (public library) — his seminal theory outlining the common journey of the archetypal hero across a wealth of ancient myths from around the world. Campbell’smonomyth model has since been applied to everything from the lives of great artists to pop-culture classics like Star Wars.

This wonderful short animation from TED Edpresents a synthesis of Campbell’s foundational framework for the eleven stages of the hero’s quest — from the call to adventure to the crisis to the moment of return and transformation — illustrating its timeless potency in illuminating the inner workings of so many of our modern myths and the real-life heroes we’ve come to worship:

But perhaps Campbell’s most important and enduring point from the book has to do not with the mechanics of the hero’s journey but with the very purpose of hero-myths in human life. He writes in the opening chapter:

It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may very well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid.

[…]

The first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case (i.e., give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what [Carl] Jung called “the archetypal images.”

Complement The Hero with a Thousand Faces with pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead on the role of “mythic ancestors” in how we form our identity, then revisit Campbell on how to find your bliss.

For more treasures from TED Ed, see these animated primers on how you know you exist, why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity,how melancholy enhances creativity, why bees build perfect hexagons, andPlato’s parable for the nature of reality.

Why Study Philosophy? ‘To Challenge Your Own Point of View’

An interview with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex
nagzi/Flickr

At a time when advances in science and technology have changed our understanding of our mental and physical selves, it is easy for some to dismiss the discipline of philosophy as obsolete. Stephen Hawking, boldly, argues that philosophy is dead.

Not according to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Goldstein, a philosopher and novelist, studied philosophy at Barnard and then earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton University. She has written several books, won a MacArthur “Genius Award” in 1996, and taught at several universities, including Barnard, Columbia, Rutgers, and Brandeis.

Goldstein’s forthcoming book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, offers insight into the significant—and often invisible—progress that philosophy has made. I spoke with Goldstein about her take on the science vs. philosophy debates, how we can measure philosophy’s advances, and why an understanding of philosophy is critical to our lives today.


You came across The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant as a kid. What were your first thoughts?

I grew up in a very religious Orthodox Jewish household and everybody seemed to have firm opinions about all sorts of big questions. I was interested in how they knew what they seemed to know, or claimed to know. That’s what I would now call an epistemological question. I was allowed to read very widely, and I got the book The Story of Philosophy out. I must’ve been 11 or 12. And the chapter on Plato… it was my first experience of a kind of intellectual ecstasy. I was sent completely outside of myself. There were a lot of things that I didn’t understand, but there was something abstract and eternal that underlay all the changing phenomena of the world. He used the word “phantasmagoria,” which is one of those words I had to look up, and probably one of the few times I’ve encountered it. I couldn’t quite understand what I was reading, but I was hooked.

When did your formal education in philosophy start?

I didn’t think I was going to study philosophy. I also loved science, and took out lots of books about science as a kid, and, oh gosh, I ruined my mother’s kitchen by trying to do do-it-yourself chemistry experiments. There were all kinds of things that interested me. One of the things about philosophy is that you don’t have to give up on any other field. Whatever field there is, there’s a corresponding field of philosophy. Philosophy of language, philosophy of politics, philosophy of math. All the things I wanted to know about I could still study within a philosophical framework.

What did your religious family think about your pursuit of philosophy?

It made my mother intensely uncomfortable. She wanted me to be a good student but not to take it too seriously. She worried that nobody would want to marry such a bookish girl. But I ended up getting married at 19. And I wasn’t an outwardly rebellious child; I followed all the rules. The problem was, I was allowed to think about whatever I wanted to. Even though I decided very early on that I didn’t believe in any of it, it was okay as long as I had freedom of mind. It was fine with my family.

How early do you think children can, or should, start learning about philosophy?

I started really early with my daughters. They said the most interesting things that if you’re trained in philosophy you realize are big philosophical statements. The wonderful thing about kids is that the normal way of thinking, the conceptual schemes we get locked up in, haven’t gelled yet with them. When my daughter was a toddler, I’d say “Danielle!” she would very assuredly, almost indignantly, say, “I’m not Danielle! I’m this!” I’d think, What is she trying to express? This is going to sound ridiculous, but she was trying to express what Immanuel Kant calls the transcendental ego. You’re not a thing in the world the way there are other things in the world, you’re the thing experiencing other things—putting it all together. This is what this toddler was trying to tell me. Or when my other daughter, six at the time, was talking with her hands and knocked over a glass of juice. She said, “Look at what my body did!” I said, “Oh, you didn’t do that?” And she said, “No! My bodydid that!” I thought, Oh! Cartesian dualism! She meant that she didn’t intend to do that, and she identified herself with her intentional self. It was fascinating to me.

And kids love to argue.

They could argue with me about anything. If it were a good argument I would take it seriously. See if you can change my mind. It teaches them to be self-critical, to look at their own opinions and see what the weak spots are. This is also important in getting them to defend their own positions, to take other people’s positions seriously, to be able to self-correct, to be tolerant, to be good citizens and not to be taken in by demagoguery. The other thing is to get them to think about moral views. Kids have a natural egotistical morality. Every kid by age three is saying, “That’s not fair!” Well, use that to get them to think about fairness. Yes, they feel a certain sense of entitlement, but what is special aboutthem? What gives them such a strong sense of fairness? They’re natural philosophers. And they’re still so flexible.

There’s a peer pressure that sets in at a certain age. They so much want to be like everybody else. But what I’ve found is that if you instill this joy of thinking, the sheer intellectual fun, it will survive even the adolescent years and come back in fighting form. It’s empowering.

What changes in philosophy curriculum have you seen over the last 40 years?

One thing that’s changed tremendously is the presence of women and the change in focus because of that. There’s a lot of interest in literature and philosophy, and using literature as a philosophical examination. It makes me so happy! Because I was seen as a hard-core analytic philosopher, and when I first began to write novels people thought, Oh, and we thought she was serious! But that’s changed entirely. People take literature seriously, especially in moral philosophy, as thought experiments. A lot of the most developed and effective thought experiments come from novels. Also, novels contribute to making moral progress, changing people’s emotions.

Right—a recent study shows how reading literature leads to increased compassion.

Exactly. It changes our view of what’s imaginable. Commercial fiction that didn’t challenge people’s stereotypes about characters didn’t have the same effect of being able to read others better, but literary fiction that challenges our views of stereotypes has a huge effect. A lot of women philosophers have brought this into the conversation. Martha Nussbaum really led the way in this. She claimed that literature was philosophically important in many different ways. The other thing that’s changed is that there’s more applied philosophy. Let’s apply philosophical theory to real-life problems, like medical ethics, environmental ethics, gender issues. This is a real change from when I was in school and it was only theory.

In your new book, you respond to the criticism that philosophy isn’t progressing the way other fields are. For example: In philosophy, unlike in other areas of study, an ancient historical figure like Plato is just as relevant today.

There’s the claim that the only progress made is in posing problems that scientists can answer. That philosophy never has the means to answer problems—it’s just biding its time till the scientists arrive on the scene. You hear this quite often. There is, among some scientists, a real anti-philosophical bias. The sense that philosophy will eventually disappear. But there’s a lot of philosophical progress, it’s just a progress that’s very hard to see. It’s very hard to see because we see with it. We incorporate philosophical progress into our own way of viewing the world. Plato would be constantly surprised by what we know. And not only what we know scientifically, or by our technology, but what we know ethically. We take a lot for granted. It’s obvious to us, for example, that individual’s ethical truths are equally important. Things like class and gender and religion and ethnicity don’t matter insofar as individual rights go. That would never have occurred to him. He makes an argument in The Republic that you need to treat all Greeks in the same way. It never occurs to him that you would treat barbarians (non-Greeks) the same way.

It’s amazing how long it takes us, but we do make progress. And it’s usually philosophical arguments that first introduce the very outlandish idea that we need to extend rights. And it takes more, it takes a movement, and activism, and emotions, to affect real social change. It starts with an argument, but then it becomes obvious. The tracks of philosophy’s work are erased because it becomes intuitively obvious. The arguments against slavery, against cruel and unusual punishment, against unjust wars, against treating children cruelly—these all took arguments.

Which philosophical arguments have you seen shifting our national conversation, changing what we once thought was obvious?

About 30 years ago, the philosopher Peter Singer started to argue about the way animals are treated in our factory farms. Everybody thought he was nuts. But I’ve watched this movement grow; I’ve watched it become emotional. It has to become emotional. You have to draw empathy into it. But here it is, right in our time—a philosopher making the argument, everyone dismissing it, but then people start discussing it. Even criticizing it, or saying it’s not valid, is taking it seriously. This is what we have to teach our children. Even things that go against their intuition they need to take seriously. What was intuition two generations ago is no longer intuition; and it’s arguments that change it. We are very inertial creatures. We do not like to change our thinking, especially if it’s inconvenient for us. And certainly the people in power never want to wonder whether they should hold power. So it really takes hard, hard work to overcome that.

How do you think philosophy is best taught?

I get very upset when I’m giving a lecture and I’m not interrupted every few sentences by questions. My style is such that that happens very rarely. That’s my technique. I’m really trying to draw the students out, make them think for themselves. The more they challenge me, the more successful I feel as a teacher. It has to be very active. Plato used the metaphor that in teaching philosophy, there needs to be a fire in the teacher, and the sheer heat will help the fire grow in the student. It’s something that’s kindled because of the proximity to the heat.

What is it like teaching philosophy to students from a variety of backgrounds?

A good philosophy professor needs to be very aware of the different personalities in her class. I’ve had students who’ve become so very uncomfortable. They needed a lot of handholding. Some came from very religious backgrounds, and just the questioning sent them into a free-fall. We made our way through. Some of them ended up being my strongest students. Two of them are very successful professional philosophers. But they required a lot of extra time because they felt it so deeply. You’re being asked to rethink all sorts of opinions. And when you see that the ground is not very firm, it can distance you from your own family, your upbringing. I went through this. My own philosophical journey distanced me from my family, the people I loved most. That was very difficult, so I know what they’re going through. It can be a very intense journey.

What’s happened to the popularity of philosophy as a subject since you studied it?

It’s gone down. Our college students today are far more practical. When I was in college, which was in the last hey-day of the radical movement, it was a more philosophically reflective time. Now, they want to get good jobs and get rich fast.

Despite this, and the fact that so many students are facing massive debt and a bleak economy, how can you make the case that they should study philosophy?

I wouldn’t say that they must go into philosophy, and frankly, the field can’t absorb that many people, but I would say that it’s always a good thing to know, no matter what you go on to study—to be able to think critically. To challenge your own point of view. Also, you need to be a citizen in this world. You need to know your responsibilities. You’re going to have many moral choices every day of your life. And it enriches your inner life. You have lots of frameworks to apply to problems, and so many ways to interpret things. It makes life so much more interesting. It’s us at our most human. And it helps us increase our humanity. No matter what you do, that’s an asset.

What do you think are the biggest philosophical issues of our time?

The growth in scientific knowledge presents new philosophical issues. The idea of the multiverse. Where are we in the universe? Physics is blowing our minds about this. The question of whether some of these scientific theories are really even scientific. Can we get predictions out of them? And with the growth in cognitive science and neuroscience. We’re going into the brain and getting these images of the brain. Are we discovering what we really are? Are we solving the problem of free will? Are we learning that there isn’t any free will? How much do the advances in neuroscience tell us about the deep philosophical issues? These are the questions that philosophers are now facing. But I also think, to a certain extent, that our society is becoming much more secular. So the question about how we find meaning in our lives, given that many people no longer look to monotheism as much as they used to in terms of defining the meaning of their life. There’s an undercurrent of a preoccupation with this question. With the decline of religion is there a sense of the meaninglessness of life and the easy consumerist answer that’s filling the space religion used to occupy? This is something that philosophers ought to be addressing.

This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Reclaiming the Age-Old Art of Getting Lost

CreditJessica Fortner

Lost in the Latin Quarter, I ended up, literally, at the foot of Michel de Montaigne.

A bronze statue of this French Renaissance philosopher — balding, with a beatific smile, cape draped over his shoulders, slender legs crossed — sits on the Rue des Ecoles in Paris, opposite the Sorbonne.

He was blackish green with the exception of the tip of his right shoe, which gleamed from having been inadvertently polished by the touch of countless hands. Why? I didn’t know. But assuming his foot was a kind of community talisman, I gave it a rub before continuing on my way.

It is a tradition among students, I would later learn, to touch the shoe of Montaigne with the hope that doing so brings them luck on their exams.

I was already lucky: I didn’t have a map. If I did I wouldn’t have seen the philosopher (by the sculptor Paul Landowski) or benefited from any additional good fortune that may have been transmitted through his foot. I wouldn’t have lingered before bookstore windows or passed Square Paul Langevin, where the blossoming branches of cherry trees reached over the fence, spilling petals like pink confetti.

The ubiquity of map and navigation apps these days can be a boon, but it also means that pedestrians can easily choose efficiency at the expense of discovery.

“We travel for romance, we travel for architecture, and we travel to be lost,” the writer Ray Bradbury said in a 1990 interview with Rob Couteau. “There’s nothing better than to walk around Paris and not know where in hell you are.”

This is true of not only Paris, but also most any city in Europe if one hopes to have the kind of chance encounters that make a vacation more than a game of hopscotch among landmarks.

My iPhone finds the most direct route to anything I wish to see, which is why I turn it off. Keeping it on would mean missing out on countless small streets and dead-ends, all those quiet, beautiful lanes and impasses with names I don’t remember.

Paper maps, which are rarer these days, can also get in the way.

“There are map people whose joy is to lavish more attention on the sheets of colored paper than on the colored land rolling by,” Steinbeck wrote in “Travels With Charley: In Search of America.”

“Another kind of traveler requires to know in terms of maps exactly where he is pinpointed every moment, as though there were some kind of safety in black and red lines, in dotted indications and squirming blue of lakes and the shadings that indicate mountains. It is not so with me. I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”

It is by being a wanderer, and not, to borrow a term from Steinbeck, a “mapifier,” that one is most likely to stumble upon less-frequented haunts.

Off Dublin’s Dame Street, through a stone arch near City Hall, past the Treasury Block building and a parking lot, around a corner and onto what looks like a service road, there is a wall of stones. On and on this gray wall goes with stones that are fat, wide, narrow and tall, and then — a gate.

There, through decorative whorls of black iron, one sees a vast, green oblong field ringed with benches and crisscrossed with paving stones in a ribbony Celtic-inspired design. On the wall that leads to the field, which dates to 1680, are the words: “Dubh Linn Garden.” Step inside, as I did one June afternoon, and you’ll be on the site of the former black pool, or “dubhlinn,” from which Dublin gets its name.

On that same trip, again mapless, I wandered by centuries-old Georgian houses with Crayola-color doors and, by chance, wound up at No. 1 Merrion Square, where Oscar Wilde lived as a child, from 1855 to 1878, and where his mother held salons attended by the likes of Bram Stoker. Yeats lived nearby, at No. 82.

Other aimless walks through Dublin were less historical but no less enjoyable: With little regard for time or where I would go next, I strolled through the Victorian park St. Stephen’s Green one morning, stopping to watch a man at the lip of a lake feed two white swans and a flock of fuzzy cygnets.

Freedom is being guided by a mood, not a map. One winter, in Italy, I arrived in Bologna for the day without a plan, having driven from Florence with a friend.

Overhead, garland arches were wrapped with gold ribbons in anticipation of Christmas and, on the streets below, a chocolate festival with edible wrenches, bolts and other tools jumbled amid stalls of marshmallow rabbits and owls.

In the spring, in the Netherlands, a bus ride to Keukenhof from Amsterdam allowed me to spend an afternoon lost beside snaky rivers of grape hyacinth and tulip fields that blanketed the land like red and yellow quilts.

In the summer, in Spain, I got disoriented in Barcelona trying to find my way back to my hotel from Barceloneta Beach and was instead swept up into some sort of flag-waving celebration.

Even a trip to the most touristy spot can feel personal and spontaneous if you forgo turn-by-turn navigation. I advise glancing at a map to determine the general direction you wish to walk, then winging it.

By doing just that in Paris, I didn’t see the Eiffel Tower grow closer from a cool distance. Rather, I was instantly dwarfed by it when I happened to glance skyward from a street in the shadow of the tower’s lattice belly.

Similarly, my inability to figure out how to get beyond the roundabout to the Arc de Triomphe made my (eventual) arrival there that much sweeter. I walked the last of more than 250 steps to the terrace and sat on the cool limestone to watch the sun disappear, with the avenues of Paris fanned out around me like pleats of a skirt frozen in mid-twirl: east toward Sacré-Coeur, west toward the woods of Bois de Boulogne, north to the Levallois-Perret cemetery, south to the Sorbonne and the lucky foot of Montaigne.

A 101-year-old shares her best advice for young women

“Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what,” says Marian Cannon Schlesinger to today’s young women.

At 101 years of age, she is still painting, writing, watching Rachel Maddow, and reading two newspapers a day.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination, many of the people who can recall the era in detail have passed on.

Marian Cannon Schlesinger was married to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., historian, speechwriter and special advisor to President John F. Kennedy, living in D.C. and raising four children during his Washington years.

Well-traveled, having studied in China prior to their marriage, she returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts after their divorce. She has written and illustrated five children’s books and, in 2012, published the second volume of her memoirs: “I Remember: A Life of Politics, Painting and People.”

I sat down with her recently to hear about her time in Washington, memories of being raised an “academic child” at Harvard, advice for independent women, and recipes for leading a “full life.”

Amidst all the cheering from individuals such as “Lean In’s” Sheryl Sandberg, many educated women of privilege in America have opted out of careers and public engagement to raise families, touting domesticity as a singular focus, in part because the alternative juggling act is so difficult and the infrastructure in the U.S. to support working parents is so paltry.

A centenarian who participated in a relatively traditional marriage might be the last person one would expect to call these women out.

But when I talked to her, Ms. Schlesinger refocused the conversation on responsibility as much as personal happiness: “Well-taken-care-of women who are well-educated, highly intelligent, well-read — a woman who has all this quality, all this talent, all this energy and yet nowhere to put it — I don’t know,” she said. “I would start by saying you can involve yourself in local problems. There are all sorts of things that have to be tended to in the world.”

What are you working on and doing with your days at this point?

Reading the newspaper, watching television and working on another book.

You spent your entire childhood among luminaries. Your father was the Francis Lee Higgins Professor of Physiology at Harvard for forty years. Your mother was a celebrated novelist and helped found Planned Parenthood. Were you impressed by all of this?

I think that’s why June Bingham and I used to have such fun over the whole thing in Washington. We didn’t take it very seriously because we had seen something of the world before we arrived.

We had a lot of fun as a family and we always had lots of people coming in and out of the house. My mother ran an “open” house really and she’d take care of all these sort of crazy relatives who had nervous breakdowns and things like that. These two wonderful aunts lived with us. So, I had three mothers, in a way.

My mother was very active in politics. She was out in the world and my two aunts were professional women and, for that period, it was rare. One of them was a founder of medical social services at Massachusetts General Hospital and the other, who had beautiful taste, owned a children’s store in Harvard Square from which generations of children were clothed.

How did you end up in China to study art after college?

“My mother sent each child after they completed college to some exotic place to sink or swim.”

My sister was married to John Fairbank and they were living in China at the time. My mother sent each child after they completed college to some exotic place to sink or swim. After Radcliffe, I took the trip by myself across the United States, got a boat in San Francisco headed for China.

How did that influence you?

A gentleman came every day and taught me how to use a Chinese brush and the whole technique of the way Chinese painting is done. There is something about the use of a Chinese brush, which is just an exquisite instrument, and it taught me so much about how to draw. A lot of people don’t draw. They just paint. I draw and paint but I feel that drawing is basic to my kind of art and I feel as though my time in China refined my work.

john f kennedeyUniversalImagesGroup/Getty Images

What was the Kennedy presidency like for you?

Very go-go, if you know what I mean. And of course, it was very exciting too. There was the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis in Cuba, those were real crisis, and then there was an awful lot of bogus stuff too.

Like what?

Oh I don’t know … I had an awfully good time.

Have politics changed today?

It was kind of like a small town in the Kennedy days. There were parties every night. We often dined at the White House. It was really mad.

There was a real family feeling—I think that was somewhat fostered by Bobby Kennedy and Ethel because they had a great sense of family. You’d go out to their house in Hickory Hill and there’d be all sorts of people gathered at their place. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was there, young law clerks and, oh, all sorts of other people. I can’t remember. I’m only 101 years old!

I think I was perhaps not as aware of political violence or what was involved. I was aware of the civil rights work but I wasn’t as sensitive to it as I became later on. A lot of this good work was going on at the time but I suppose I was preoccupied by the momentum of it all including raising my four teenagers.

There were so many things played upon me at the time. I wasn’t involved with the mechanics of getting elected at that point. I wasn’t active in politics until afterwards when I went on a trip with Scotty Lanahan, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s daughter, who was a great friend of mine, and two other women. We went out and campaigned for Johnson in 1964. That was terrific fun. I never had such a good time as that.

What advice do you have on how to be a free-spirited woman?

Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what.

Also, my mother had said, ‘It doesn’t really matter if your house is that dirty. Go ahead and do your thing. Don’t pay too much attention to housekeeping.’ Of course, she did have a nice maid who came in every day but we didn’t have any live-in servants. My mother did most of the cooking. Sometimes it was not so good, but it was adequate.

In those days, women who had higher education, especially back in my childhood, were rather rare. The fact that they’ve gone out and gotten this education has differentiated them from other people in a way.

But there are strong women everywhere whether they have higher education or not! There have always been strong women.

This idea that feminism was created in the last twenty years is ridiculous. When you think of all the women that went across the continent in covered wagons. Really. It’s ridiculous. It’s a lot of baloney. If they’d read a little history, they’d find out that women have been powerful characters all through the history of the United States.

Young Woman with Hat and SunglassesFlickr / Chris JL

You must recognize, though, that some women still can’t find their voice?

I think there are a lot of privileged women who are frustrated. They just don’t know what they want to do and they need to go out and use their education and talent. I’m very fortunate because not only do I paint but I also write. I had plenty to do.

“I think I’ve been very lucky. But I think that I’ve made some of it for myself. I never gave up. I wanted it all, in other words, and I think I really almost got it all too.”

I was thinking about a friend of mine who, before she married, was quite active in Massachusetts politics. And then she married a man who was very well off and she was well-supported and had two children and then, once the children were all grown up, here she was well-supported and not even doing anything with it.

Well-taken-care-of women who are well-educated, highly intelligent, well-read – a woman who has all this quality, all this talent, all this energy and yet nowhere to put it—I don’t know. I really feel very sorry for them.

What would you say to these women?

I would start by saying you can involve yourself in local problems. There are all sorts of things that have to be tended to in the world.

Early on I decided being a painter was what I wanted to be but I wanted to be a lot of other things too. I wanted to write. I wanted to play tennis. I wanted to have a lot of friends. I wanted to have a lot of beaus. I think I’ve been very lucky. But I think that I’ve made some of it for myself. I never gave up. I wanted it all, in other words, and I think I really almost got it all too.

I was thinking the other day about never giving up. I remember when my husband and I separated and I stayed on in Washington for about a year before I moved back to Cambridge on my own. […] But then I sort of gathered myself together, moved back to Cambridge and got organized.

How did you get organized?

I renewed a lot of friendships.

What was it like to be neighbors with Julia Child?

She was terribly busy. I’d have people over for the afternoons and she’d come but I’ll never forget the time I had to her to lunch before she went back to California. I must say I made a very good meal and she said, ‘oh, Marian, this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.’

What did you make?

Gnocchi. We made gnocchi, green salad and fruit for desert. Pretty good and the gnocchi, it was delicious too.

Where do you get your news?

I read two newspapers a day. I also read The Nation and The New Yorker, which has become such a bore. Every once in a while there’s a wonderful murder in Vanity Fair which I love, especially a society murder, if you know what I mean?

I like to watch Rachel Maddow, if I can stay awake that late, I like her so much and Chris Matthews and Mister Ed who I love on MSNBC.

Favorite places to dine out in Cambridge?

God, I can’t remember. No one went out to dinner in the ’50s.

But I will tell you what I used to do with this great friend of mine, Sheila Gilmore, who was an original. She was the stepdaughter of the Harvard philosopher Alfred Whitehead and her husband was a professor of history at Harvard. She and I used to go to the original Legal Seafood down in Inman Square. We used to set up at the counter and I’d have a dozen oysters and a martini. I’ve forgotten what she had but I always remember this. It was my idea of the perfect meal.

Any thoughts on the Red Sox?

I think they’re terrific but I can’t stay awake and watch them. I find the Patriots are rather an irritating group – so full of themselves. I prefer the Red Sox to the Patriots.

Craft CoffeeFacebook/Craft Coffee

Do you have any habits or secrets to living to be 101?

I drink a cup of coffee every morning. My nice son brings me a cup of coffee and he’s done that now for some years, which I think is terribly nice of him.

Her son Andrew chimes in: “You have a drink every night.”

A pretty watered down drink! It’s symbolic more than anything

What advice do you have on how to live a full life?

Just keep going.

Have lots of people in the house and lots of different kinds of people – young, old, black, white, people from all over the world. People have always energized me.

Your hope for the next president?

Good old Hillary would be okay.

 

How Do You Know You Exist? A Mind-Bending Animated Homage to Descartes Exploring the Conundrum of Reality

by

“When you’re awake, you know you’re awake. But when you aren’t, you don’t know you aren’t.”

“We don’t need to credit an all-seeing God with the creation of life and matter,” wrote Douglas Rushkoff, “to suspect that something wonderfully strange is going on in the dimension we call reality.” But what is the thing we call reality, exactly, and how are we even sure it is in the first place? Long before Philip K. Dick proclaimed that “reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away” and E.F. Schumacher considered how we know what we know, the great French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (March 31, 1596–February 11, 1650) tussled with these questions in his foundational 1641 treatise Meditations on First Philosophy (public library) — a quest to shake and uproot all beliefs not grounded in what is known with absolute certainty, and to advance a framework for what we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt.

This pleasantly mind-bending animation from James Zucker and TED-Ed turns our most fundamental sense of certainty on its head by directing Descartes’s inquiry at the most seemingly solid bastion of reality — the self: How do you know you’re real?

When you’re awake, you know you’re awake. But when you aren’t, you don’t know you aren’t — so you can’t prove you aren’t dreaming. Maybe the body you perceive yourself to have isn’t really there. Maybe all of reality, even its abstract concepts like time, shape, color, and number are false.

Complement with Alan Watts on what we really mean by “reality”, Mark Strand’s poetic ode to dreams, and a wonderful animated take on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which remains humanity’s greatest parable about the nature of reality, then find a necessary counterpoint in astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser’s beautiful case for living with mystery in a culture obsessed with certitude.

Previous TED-Ed primers have explored how melancholy enhances our creativity, why we love repetition in music, how to detect lies, and why bees build perfect hexagons.

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