Spiritual intelligence

An interview with Danah Zohar and Dr. Ian Marshall, authors of "SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence."


David Bowman
February 18, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

How could I to talk to Dr. Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar (husband and wife) without revealing my disdain for their new book?

"SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence" seemed harmless as first. The authors propose that in addition to I.Q. (linear thought) and E.Q. (emotional intelligence), the highest dome in our consciousness is S.Q. -- spiritual intelligence. But their vision of "spiritual intelligence" has nothing to do with figuring out how many angels dance on the head of a pin. No. Spirituality is about questions, not answers. This implies that neither the pope nor the Dalai Lama is as spiritually advanced as an agnostic Silicon Valley pseudo Buddhist.

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The two present this visual metaphor of S.Q.: A goldfish leaps out of its fishbowl and looks around exclaiming, "Look where I've come from!" Yes. Uh-huh. But does the enlightened goldfish fall back in the water? Or land on the rug to die? Neither Zohar nor Marshall cares.

If you are into New Age, then you may have the patience to fill out their survey, "What Personality Type Am I?" then find your slot in the "basic Lotus of the Self." The book claims that we live in a spiritually dumb culture. This is true. But the work of Zohar and Marshall seems a symptom of this dumbness, not the cure.

I seethed, and then I spoke to them. On the telephone, Zohar and Marshall were delights rather than New Age hucksters -- it seems they are better speakers than writers.

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You used chess as an example to distinguish the difference between I.Q. and E.Q.: An amateur chess player uses I.Q. to think of every possible move his opponent will make, while the more advanced player uses E.Q. to figure out instinctively what moves his opponent is likely to make. How would someone use S.Q. to play chess?

Zohar: [To her husband] I don't think S.Q. bears on playing chess, does it?

Marshall: [Thick British accent] S.Q. might make you think, "Why am I playing all this damn chess?"

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[Everyone laughs.]

Dividing consciousness into three arenas -- I.Q., E.Q. and S.Q. -- seems arbitrary somehow.

[Silence.]

What designation do artistic abilities fit into?

Zohar: You're picking up on [Howard] Gardner's "nine intelligences," right? The different expert systems in the brain like spatial imagination, artistic ability, musical ability, mathematical abilities -- Gardner calls these intelligences. And they are definitely expert systems in the brain. But they are not full-blown intelligences. They're mental skills that you can only use intelligently if your S.Q. is uniting your I.Q. and your E.Q. Musical ability for instance -- as you probably know, autistic children have it. But an autistic child really can't relate to others. He can't do anything with his life. He lives like a cripple. So one wants to say he has that fantastic mental skill but he can't use it intelligently.

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It's a clichi that God is love. But the only spiritual epiphany I've ever had concerned empathy. Where does love fit into consciousness?

Marshall: If you look toward the back of the book there is a chapter on spiritual paths. We say there are six of them. Love or caring for people is one path.

You don't think love is bigger than just one of six paths?

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Zohar: I think love is very critical in the emotional part of our intelligence. It's how we relate to others. It's fundamental to our wish to serve, which is connected to our sense of loyalty and following a charismatic leader and serving the community and that sort of thing. But there are deeply spiritual people who have a quest for truth. And there are other deeply spiritual people like Gandhi whose quest was for service. So I don't think that love is the be-all and end-all.

Spirituality has to be something more than just asking the obvious "Why am I here?" questions.

Marshall: I put it this way -- that it's being able to see anything in a context. If you're stuck in something that you're trying to do, you step back and say, "What is this about?" Put it in a larger context. This is what the Gestalt psychiatrists call "insight." It's what other psychiatrists call "reframing." It's the ability to do this, rather than being stuck in a particular pattern like a computer. This kind of thinking is always in the back of science -- theories are provisional. If they don't work, one steps back and takes another look at them.

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What you're saying is funny to me personally. Have you ever thought about the concept of irony?

Marshall: Why yes.

I tend to see everything ironically, which is similar to stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. But most people are not ironic. My ironic comments tend to get me into trouble socially and professionally.

Marshall: Well, I think there is a middle way. One extreme is being a fundamentalist and taking everything totally seriously. And at the other extreme, one can be too ironic. One must feel something strongly enough to do it sincerely. And be prepared to change it if it doesn't go right.

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How do you want to specifically take this S.Q. into British and American business?

Zohar: I have quite a career in business already established. Our past books were on quantum thinking and using quantum physics as a way to think about the self and society and the organization. Since this book, I've done four big lectures to executive groups, and they're really crazy about S.Q. The top business school in Britain wants to develop a research project about S.Q.

The younger people in business are saying things like, "I spend 14, 16 hours of my life at this job. What am I doing with this if it doesn't mean something to me?" I talk to young executives who say, "If this doesn't mean anything to me in five years, I'm outta here." People are expecting to bring more of themselves to work. At the same time, companies are finding the deepest motivation of employees is if they're purposely engaged in what they're doing. It's good business to give people space to believe more in what they're doing at work.

Can't that be dangerous for the company? What if you're working for a tobacco company?

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Zohar: This is really interesting because Philip Morris has asked me to speak about this in March. It's going to be really interesting how it goes down. [Pause] I don't see how you can be idealistic about working for a tobacco company. I'm quite nervous about it.

Have you prepared your talk?

Zohar: Not specifically for Philip Morris. I'll work on that closer to the time to give the talk. But I know what I say to other businesses. There was an article in the Financial Times a few days ago about how Coke has decided that they didn't want to just be a rich company and a cultural icon. They thought it was important to be a good global citizen. As a result they've decided to put their distribution networks at the service of government and aid agencies in third world countries. The Indian government wants to distribute polio vaccine to remote rural areas. They don't have to pay money to set up the distribution service -- just put it on the back of a crate of Coke and it will get anywhere in India. That's really inspiring, I think.

But does that have anything to do with people who grew up in the '60s who are now in positions of corporate power?

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Zohar: I think it does. I think the '60s really was a shift of consciousness. And those kids are now the sort of late-40s/early-50s senior managers in companies. And they have a different consciousness: "Well here we are, a very rich company, but could we also do something good without it cutting into the business?" And it's a kind of shift that the '60s were all about, isn't it?

So post-'60s money isn't necessarily the root of all evil? [Pause] Speaking of which, where does evil fit into S.Q.?

Zohar I think our spirituality is located in the deep self, which is ultimately connected to the ground of reality itself. Physicists would call this the quantum vacuum. Religious people would call it God. Buddhists would call it the soulful being. Doesn't matter what you call it. Even in psychics there is a kind of fundamental reality as the base of things. I think that because we are fundamentally rooted in that, we have the capacity to respond to the depth of being, the depth in others, the hurt in others, the pain in others -- we know when we're causing hurt and pain. Evil is a lack of response. The word for devil in Hebrew means "he who cannot respond." And the whole thing about psychopaths is they simply cannot feel what their victims are feeling. They just don't tune in like the rest of us. The rest of us normal people, it would hurt us terribly to do something evil because we would feel the pain of the victim we were inflicting it on.

But to play -- ha ha -- devil's advocate, is it just a prejudice on our part that empathy is better than greed or hatred?

Marshall: Well, any species that didn't have empathy wouldn't be likely to survive.

But in evolutionary terms, isn't a certain bit of dog-eat-dog good?

Zohar: This is the new buzz in biology -- the discovery of the tremendous role that altruism plays in evolution.

Back to business, I still think altruism could go too far. I mean, just give your corporation away to the poor?

Zohar: You've got to remember if you're a business -- as opposed to a church -- the bottom line is making money. So you always keep in mind if you want to do good works as a business, good work is making a hell of a lot of money.

I have a dog, and he lives for play. Where does play fit into the whole S.Q. business?

Zohar: I think play is important to all of our intelligences: I.Q., E.Q. and S.Q. We test things out in play -- and we learn by our mistakes.

I could see an argument that to take delight in pure play is more magnificent in God's eyes than sitting around questioning the meaning of life.

Zohar: I think play is important to S.Q. You test things out.

The last time I played I can't even remember. I'm like the businessman you write about who meets the Mexican fisherman. [This refers to a story about a businessman who meets a poor, happy Mexican fisherman, more or less living the life of a retiree. The businessman scolds the other, telling him that he needs to work harder so he can make enough money to retire.]

Zohar: I think about those things too, David. I think, "Why don't I go live like the Mexican fisherman?" The fact is that we human beings have ambitions. We want to achieve more, are driven by questions of ultimate meanings. This has made us build a higher culture, which has caused evolution to go forward. If we just all lived like Mexican fishermen there would be no development in, say, medicine in the world. I'm not sure I want the world to be like that either.

Marshall: We overdo the work in the West.

Zohar: We definitely have it out of balance.

When was the last time you played, Ian?

Marshall: I played with the cat just yesterday.

Zohar: We're part of a very, very fortunate minority of people who make a living doing what we love, which is a kind of play anyway. We sit around having ideas and writing books, and that's a lot of fun.


David Bowman

David Bowman is the author of the novel "Bunny Modern" and the nonfiction book "This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of the Talking Heads in the 20th Century."

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