Tuesday, May 08, 2012

“Right Mindfulness” and “Recta Ratio”

I FOUND AN article, “How Emotional Intelligence Boosts The Bottom Line At Companies Like GE, Zappos, American Express And Metlife,” over at Business Insider. This is part of an interview with long-time Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan, who applies insights from Buddhism to improving business:
Knowledge@Wharton: Business schools excel at teaching students analytical skills, but they have often been less successful at helping students develop emotional intelligence. How can they do a better job?

Meng: The first step is to recognize the importance of emotional intelligence in business leadership. Leadership is essentially character, and you cannot develop character if you don't also develop emotional intelligence — that's how important it is. Emotional intelligence is at the center of developing leadership, and recognizing that is the first step.

The second step is hard because business schools —and I think schools, in general — are very used to curriculum that is purely cognitive. You learn stuff from a book or from reading or solving problems. Schools in general and business schools in particular are not used to a curriculum that requires other forms of training. For emotional intelligence, there are at least three aspects of training. There's a cognitive aspect, but there's also the attention aspect and the affective aspect. The attention aspect is what we talked about earlier, which is to develop a quality of attention that allows the mind to become calm and clear on demand. The affective aspect is a training that allows you to perceive emotions at a high resolution and gain mastery over those emotions. This is not something you can learn from reading a book or solving problems on a piece of paper. This is an entirely different form of training. Business schools are not yet used to such things.
Emotional intelligence, according to Meng, comes from ‘mindfulness,’ or more properly ‘right mindfulness,’ sati, which is a part of Buddhism’s eightfold path to enlightenment. ‘Mindfulness’ is also used in contemporary Western psychology, but it derives from that older concept. While these methods undoubtably have merit, I’d rather make the point that similar, stronger ideas can be found in the Western philosophical patrimony, but, alas, this tradition is generally overlooked by modern Westerners.

‘Right mindfulness’ finds its Western equivalent in the Latin term recta ratio or ‘right reason,’ as is found in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas and many other Catholic philosophers. We also find this equivalent in Greek philosophy as orthos logos or orthos doxa , the ‘right reason’ or ‘right belief’ that is an essential step towards enlightenment according to Plato. As both Aquinas and Plato were mystics as well as philosophers, we find that recta ratio and orthos doxa have something in common with mystical Buddhist notions — contrary to what we find in contemporary Western philosophy, which is rigorously secularistic and non-mystical. Recta ratio not only takes into consideration the right reason of the intellect, but also the emotions, and so leads to the kind of emotional intelligence described in the article above. Recta ratio is described in Catholic moral theology as a foundation of virtue, and so recta ratio is nearly essential if a human being ever wants to be happy or blessed over the long term.

Right reason is of great importance, and is an antidote to the poison of modern thinking. For a scholarly look at recta ratio, see the article Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and also the Meaning of Virtue in Thomas Aquinas. Or you can go the master himself, PRIMA SECUNDÆ PARTIS, of the Summa of Saint Thomas.

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