Unlocking the emotional intelligence of black men

I was stuck. Emotionally marooned. What now seems like a lifetime ago, I recall trying as best I could to be a more loving partner in a relationship that was speeding toward Splitsville.

She wanted me to share my feelings more, engage in heavy PDA (public displays of affection), and well, just love her more. However, despite my deep feelings of love for her, I found myself waiting like a mannequin in a relationship store window – always taking my emotional cues from an external hand. It was not a good look.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a complete dummy. When it came to the rudimentary stuff like anger, sadness, happiness or the ever-ubiquitous, often-stated “cool,” I had the emotional consistency of a Shaolin monk. Knowing how I felt was often a binary exercise, with me easily toggling between a couple emotions, usually synonyms for cool.

But what is cool? In addition to being a slavery-hewn, centuries-old tradition for black men that often meant the difference between life and death, learning to master one’s cool remains our de rigueur rites-of-passage.

For a snapshot of its utility, one only recall a fictional but fact-based scene from the film “Glory.” Denzel Washington’s character, Trip, has been caught after a failed escape attempt and is about to be whipped. In a show of defiant cool, he throws off his shirt and stares stoically into the eyes of his oppressor before being flogged, which judging by the track of scars on his back, will be nothing more than a familiar reminder of his resolve to swallow the pain, to show no fear, to be cool.

However, while the survival value of cool – from the plantation to the oval office – can hardly be argued, I’ve become more and more clear about its actual detriment when it comes to matters of the heart.

Of course, it could be argued that the emotional circuitry of all men needs rewiring, but speaking as a black man, I know the little nuances that belie our ability to simply say, “I love you,” or share and demonstrate a variety of feelings in our relationships. Many of us are still stuck.

So what’s the answer? According to Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, a lot of it is connected to our parents and childhood.

Says Goleman: ”…Emotional schooling operates not just through the things parents say and do directly to children, but also in the models they offer for handling their own feelings and those that pass between husband and wife. Some parents are gifted emotional teachers, others atrocious.”

When we consider the fact that nearly seventy percent of black households are without a father in the home coupled with the everyday challenges of being a black male in America, it becomes clear what is needed in the lives of black men. Less cool, more love.

Unlike Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests, there are no universally accepted measures for emotional intelligence. But take it from me we can make simple changes that have lasting effects.

Reconsider your notions of manhood; if they limit your expression of love in any way, kiss ‘em goodbye. Consider therapy or join a men’s group. And on this coming Father’s Day, initiate a meaningful dialogue with your pops or other loved ones.

Man up. Get unstuck. I did.