Pope Francis' three types of intelligence


Diagram portrays the kinds of activities associated with each side of the brain, e.g. science and maths on one side, music and bike riding on the otherI wrote last week about the virtues of Pope Francis' unbuttoned style of leadership. It was open for inspection when he visited the island of Lampedusa. This is Italy's Christmas Island, the closest point to the African coast and so the magnet for people who seek protection or a better life in Europe. As in Australia, there is much animus against people who seek asylum, and many die making the sea voyage. So the Pope's exercise of leadership there encourages reflection on how Australian public figures might respond to sea borne asylum seekers.

Giving a lead on controversial issues requires three sorts of intelligence: rational, emotional and symbolic. When policies affect people's lives, Emotional intelligence should come first into play. It is the ability and inclination to see people, not simply as the objects of policy or as problems, but as persons each with their own face and life story. It also supposes the desire to enter their experience. In this respect the Pope was exemplary. He went out to the island to mourn the dead and console the living. And in so doing he stated the priority for others.

Rational intelligence guides and offers resources to the movements of the heart. It confers the ability to recognise and to give coherent shape to what matters in a complex situation. The Pope's action rested on the conviction that all human beings are precious, and that their happiness and welfare depend on their connection with one another. Because of that we can make a claim on one another.

For Francis, too, that conviction was grounded in the Christian story of a God who loved the world enough to join humanity, to die as human beings do, and to give life in his rising. This belief shaped the account he gave of the events on Lampedusa. For him the disparity between the societies from which people fled and those to which they came and the hostility to them expressed a lack of solidarity between people. Sinfulness was involved as well as tragedy. The proper response to this globalisation of indifference was penitential.

Leaders need not only to recognise who matters, what matters, and what is to be done, but to communicate this to others honestly and vividly. It requires symbolic intelligence to find the right words, images, silences and gestures that will invite others to reflect and respond generously. Good leadership creates surprising new possibilities that will later seem self-evident. In the Pope's case, the challenge was to choose stories, images and gestures from the resources of Christian tradition and to weave them in a way that resonated powerfully with the people he visited and with the wider audience.

Because it works through surprise, symbolic intelligence always breaks moulds. That has been Francis' gift. Papal protocol ensures predictability by insisting on distance, formality, strict adherence to rituals, elaborate dress, controlled access and elaborately planned events. The protocol for political leaders is equally tightly scripted.

The Pope privileged spontaneity over protocols. He responded to a forgotten people by visiting them, casting into the water a bunch of flowers in the papal colours to express solidarity with those who had died, and celebrating Mass at an altar and with a chalice made of wood scavenged from abandoned boats. For Catholics the association of altar and chalice with Christ's blood poured into the wooden cross on which he was nailed and left to die, spoke of the inhumanity which we visit on one another, of the gift the misused are to us, and of the undeniable claim  we make on one another.

This was leadership of a high order on an issue that troubles Australians. It hinted at what we might hope for from our leaders and ask of ourselves. Emotional intelligence means imagining ourselves on a boat with mothers and children fleeing from persecution, and looking into their faces as we board their boat, seize control and tow it back into Indonesian waters. It means looking into the face of a mother we have sent back to Indonesia as her child faces death because she cannot buy essential medicine. It means saying no to these ways of acting.

Rationall intelligence means asking who and what matters in policy, and answering that people matter, and that the health of society demands we recognise the claim that others make on us in their distress. It means refraining from dishonest and pejorative descriptions of people and sanitised abstractions that conceal brutal policies.

Symbolic intelligence means finding ways to tell the human story of people who seek asylum, and ways to commend solidarity within our own society and with other societies.

This is a hard ask. But perhaps it is no harder than to thread your journey from the land where you are persecuted, through land and sea, to seek a new and free life.

Andrew Hamilton headshotAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Brain image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Pope Francis, Christmas Island, asylum seekers, Lampedusa



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Existing comments

Bravo! bravo! bravo!
Jim Jones | 18 July 2013

Thanks, Andy, for an article that is itself a beautfiully eloquent testimony to your own considerable intelligence - all three types!
Lisa Stewart | 18 July 2013

The writer Peter Carey, in an interview some time ago, said "But I'm such a bad scholar, I feel like a man with a white cane knocking into knowledge". Pretty much how many of us feel I think! That's why we need leadership of a high order - both in society and the church. Like billions across the planet, I watched Francis walk onto that balcony at the Vatican carrying many hopes and dreams. His privileging of spontaneity over protocol - fulfilling hopes and dreams.
Pam | 18 July 2013

If only ... *sigh*. A lovely piece Andrew.
Winsome Thomas | 18 July 2013

Wonderful article. If only it could be reprinted in some of our major newspapers!
Cathy Cleary | 18 July 2013

Very incisive, Andy. I read his homily and used it as an example of Lumen Fidei. You precisely capture the heart of the matter. Many thanks.
Mark Green | 18 July 2013

Now, where are the comments from all those wordy intellectual theological types who so often make contributions ?
Jennifer | 18 July 2013

Thank you,thank you,thank you Andrew.Pope Francis walks the walk, both physically and symbolically and appeals to our emotional and rational intelligences. He truly embodies the christian good news and choses to witness and be a living beacon of light and hope. He displays the real courage needed and the gifts of grace we are all blessed with if we ask. Refugees will always be found in this war torn world and we have Christ's life and teaching as our response.Your words are all that need to read, and sadly re read and re read.Your message is vital; that there are profound claims and costs in human relationship and community.We cannot have true personal peace without using all our intelligence, giftedness. The world is a creation for all.
Catherine | 18 July 2013

Andrew I like the way you contrasted rational intelligence with symbolic intelligence, it makes for a spiritual dimension that seems to be absent in our politicians minds. Both Rudd and Abbott are driven by their particular party agendas (stop the boats) so they think in terms of cause and effect (process off shore or send them back). It seems that fear is the basic factor driving these agendas rather than the core value of respect and compassion for human life. Collectively our parliamentarians display a very immature attitude both in their dealings with each other and in their attitudes towards refugees. Due to the primacy of the ‘digital age’ society pays little attention to symbols now (unless it concerns ancient archaeological artefacts). How can we change the way our politicians think and behave? Our leaders are an international embarrassment and a disgrace when it comes to assisting asylum seekers, their main concern is to stop the traffic rather than save the distressed and dispossessed people (including vulnerable women and children).
Trish Martin | 18 July 2013

Great thoughts and words and symbols from our leaders take us part of the distance and this is a breath of fresh air. The other side that is more difficult to appease as a people and a nation is to own our fear and our racism, our desire for security ... maintaining of our comfort, and the protection of our wealth and lifestyle . As boat people ourselves, our treatment of aboriginal peoples does not bode well. As Christian people we need to be prepared to live a different way, to share our back yards and our spare room. 'To make hospitality our special care.'
David Woods | 18 July 2013

With an article like this and a pope walking the walk we are given joy,hope and a feeling of empowerment. recently I saw the MTV production of the crucible and the malt house version of dragon.they both struck chords about our society today. Andrew I want you to represent us as our archbishop media spokesperson and shout in the pulpit of secular tv,newspapers, film and theatre. Bless you and thank you.
N of Richmond | 18 July 2013

Leaders need not only to recognise who matters, what matters, and what is to be done, but to communicate this to others honestly and vividly. It requires symbolic intelligence to find the right words, images, silences and gestures that will invite others This article by Andy Hamilton is excellent and so true. The pope has set a great example to our leaders to 'reflect and respond generously' to asylum seekers. As he writes: 'Good leadership creates surprising new possibilities that will later seem self-evident.' Our leaders need courage, vision and the three types of intelligence Hamilton mentioned to navigate through the complexities of this issue. Andy, can you have a word to the Catholic Tony Abbott who wants to be Prime Minister of Australia and even the Christian, Rudd? Men, where are your priorities?
Valerie Farfalla | 18 July 2013

Andrew Hamilton's is one of the most insightful reflections I have read on this issue. If only our political, community and political leaders could exercise the leadership of which he speaks, we would be in a very different place, I believe. Thank you for the inspiration and the hope.
Jan Barnett | 18 July 2013

Again, many thanks Andy for a subtle and incisive article. You offering can be rendered to tackle many similar social conundrums. Much appreciated. You are a wonderful teacher.
Vic O'Callaghan | 18 July 2013

Thank for a very informative and reflective article.
Mary Forrest | 18 July 2013

Yes indeed. The image for this article should be the heart "by Shutterstock", not just the brain. While the Argentine pope shows by symbolic action the way to go, his managers back in Rome think that following the pope's tweets can reduce our time in Purgatory. But what about the Purgatory being endured by asylum seekers on Lampedusa and Christmas Island? That seems to me to be the point of the pope's visit to the asylum seekers. Why is it that it takes a Jesuit pope to do this?
PHILIP HARVEY | 18 July 2013

Thank you Andrew keep noting the good, fresh, creative and uplifting in our spirit starved globe
Anne Nolan | 18 July 2013

Jennifer, will this do? Proverb 26:4-5
Wellington | 18 July 2013

Hi Cathy Cleary, never mind the newspapers, you can pass it on to the twittersphere, which these days reaches potentially a much larger readership. See the little bird at the very top right of this page? I have come to this conclusion: join Twitter and you can tweet to politicians like K Rudd who uses it. Make them think twice, because all they are doing is trying to maximise their vote, and responding to what seems to be the majority viewpoint of Australians. So yesterday I tweeted yesterday's Eureka Street story on the same subject: http://t.co/KnwfEag819 That has more chance of also reaching young voters, who may still be forming their opinions on the subject. My user name is @madfrank55
Frank S | 18 July 2013

Thank you Andrew for one of your best ever articles....which encourages/ challenges religious and political leaders to imitate Pope Francis and make personal contact with asylum seekers, prisoners etc
John Wotherspoon | 18 July 2013

Thank you for this well-written article, with which I agree.
Mary Sullivan, snjm | 19 July 2013

Well said, Andrew! A great article. We do not spend enough time "... looking into the face ..." of refugees and feeling their pain.
Tony Borger | 19 July 2013

The initial part of Pope Francis' Pontificate brings great hope to many of us. My question is however - Isn't it emotional intelligence that has led Tony Abbott to be active in Life Saving, Volunteer Fire Brigade and voluntary work in our first peoples communities? How many other parliamentarians actively engage this way? He is blokey in manner but I hope my emotional intelligence enables me to see past this. Also my understanding of the original Liberal policy under John Howard was that it was to ensure that those struggling in camps for many many years were not gazzumped by those who could afford to pay their way through. I don't think I am stupid and I do try to think issues through grounded by Jesus message - love your neighbour as yourself and do unto others as you would be done by. Am I that wrong in the conclusions I come to?
Mary Hoban | 19 July 2013

Another excellent article, Andy. Thank-you
Anne | 19 July 2013

It means looking into the face of a mother we have sent back to Indonesia as her child faces death because she cannot buy essential medicine. This was a great article Andrew but this comment alone may pave the way for the Right Wing Triumphalist zenophobes to find a crack in your argument? If this is true do we need medicin Sans Frontiers or another agency to help out in Indonesia directly ?
Richie | 19 July 2013

Wonderful article! Thank you for this!
Margaret.L | 19 July 2013

Beautiful, well written and eloquent--but unfortunately wrong. Cognitive neuroscience shows that there are only two types of intelligence and they are called Systems1 and Systems 2 thinking. It's called the dual process theory of intelligence. All the other stuff is pie in the sky. In days of old, the officials of religion were deliberately excluded from Jury duty because it was felt that they lacked a certain objectivity when it came to just punishment. Christian Theology is quite clear on the division between Church and state. Pope Francis is a wonderful human being but he has not been charged with the government of a nation. Still: I don't see him hanging out with the most despised people in todays society; the money lenders and arms dealers.
slumlord | 20 July 2013

What a fantastic article Andrew. Congratulations. I suppose many people have said to you that maybe you should send this article to Kevin Rudd and his team. I'm sure he would appreciate it as I do. Thanks
Breda O'Reilly | 21 July 2013

Andy I so agree with you. Two days ago I sat in a Balinese outrigger as we went between islands, the swells were big, just not too big and the currents twisting and tortured and imagined myself escaping to a new land. I realised then if there was no other way I would get on that boat and risk all. I would be filled with fear and unknowing and I too would get on that boat...and we a people of boat people whose ancestors came in boats by sea or more recently a different type of boat in the sky turn people back who risk all. That I do not understand.
john | 25 July 2013

I was very heartened to read this story, and moved by Pope Francis's very powerful symbolicidentification with those who are suffering and dying. Thank God someone in Christendom is showing leadership that is visible . The refugee problem is an international problem, perhaps Francis can show even more outstanding leadership by leading the way to negotiate with countries experiencing the first waves of this diaspora to help fund and establish refugee camps which offer health, education and hope for those fleeing, at a standard such that leaky boats are not considered as the only solution. The Catholic Church has excelled in education and humanitarian services, and has the assets to make a significant contribution to this solution. Such giving may also be a way of identifying symbolically and in actuality with those who sell everything they have and risk their lives for freedom - a way of joining in the dying and loss so that others may live.
Sue Burrell | 08 August 2013

I just loved this article. I am taking a coursera on emotional intelligence and reading Goleman's book. I especially enjoyed how you applied "EI" to Pope Francis' public example. ~Andy Roy, Harrisburg, PA, USA
Andrew Roy | 02 February 2020


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