Emotional competency works; it is good for business, it
strengthens relationships, improves wellbeing, and it can even save
lives. The pain and suffering caused by emotional incompetence
is huge and incalculable. We have included stories here as examples of
the many tragedies that could have been prevented by emotionally
competent behaviors. Although the losses represented by these stories
are huge, the peace of
mind that is lost each day by so many people may represent an even greater
loss. The following stories clearly show the great need to improve our emotional competency.
Studying and applying the principles of
emotional competency can improve our emotional wellbeing. The need is
both urgent and imperative. Please
send us your stories.
On November 27, 1996 in
Cincinnati Ohio, Tracie Alfieri, a 24 year old mother of two, is alone
driving northbound on Interstate 71 in a GrandAm. She is following 29-year
old Rene Andrews who was driving a VW. In front of them are several cars
behind a truck going 35 mph. Perhaps because she felt entitled to drive
faster on the highway, Tracie pulls her GrandAm into the left lane to pass
the line of cars and immediately speeds up to 55 mph. Suddenly and
unexpectedly Rene pulls her VW out into the left lane, in front of the
GrandAm, going 20 mph slower and forcing Tracie to suddenly apply her
GrandAm’s brakes. Rene’s provocative maneuver suddenly creates a dangerous
incident and was done deliberately to annoy the GrandAm driver for
tailgating her. It's an aggressive act,
directly challenging Tracie who
was already engaged changing lanes with her GrandAm. Rather than
exercising the social skill of backing down from a challenge, of being
less competitive, and intending to facilitate rather than oppose what
other drivers want to do, Rene engaged in a power struggle with Tracie.
Rene’s VW gradually
overtakes the slow truck, passes it, and pulls back into the right lane.
Tracie’s GrandAm, still in the left lane, now overtakes the VW, honks
several times, makes obscene gestures, and flashes her lights as signs of
outrage “to let her know that she almost caused an accident just then”.
Tracie did not exercise self-control by refusing to fan the flames of her
righteous indignation. She did not resist the temptation to teach other
drivers a lesson. She did not value Rene as a fellow human and resist the
impulse to retaliate. Instead she chooses to continue their open duel on
the road as she seeks revenge.
Rene continues the duel and
responds from her VW by flipping the bird and shaking her head. Rather
than defusing the situation, she continues to be drawn into the duel. She
missed this opportunity to “come out swinging positive” by appearing to be
calm, like she was no longer taking a fighting stance. She did not
exercise the social skills of switching to a non-confrontational posture,
and of rationally predicting the consequences of this quickly escalating
Tracie in her GrandAm now
tries to pull ahead in the left lane to re-enter the right lane, but then
Rene accelerates her VW, blocking the way and casting the die for tragedy.
Both drivers are now locked into a pathological and deadly game. Neither
realizes how far their emotional responses are obscuring their rational
choices. Neither driver recognizes they are in an insane power struggle
that they need to back out of immediately.
Having no choice, Tracie is
forced to back off momentarily. She slows down her GrandAm and pulls in
behind Rene’s VW, but she hasn't calmed down. She does not choose to use
this lull to back out of the fight and calm down. Instead, she chooses to
use her experience as a driver to wage war, she continues the escalation, and
now keeps up the pressure by tailgating dangerously.
Tracie suddenly pulls her
GrandAm out into the left lane again, overtakes and cuts off the VW, then
gives a “brake job,” slamming on the brakes to in an attempt to punish
Rene driving the VW behind her. Not realizing that
anger escalates anger and aggression escalates aggression into tragedy
she’s no longer just getting even. She started out by getting upset that
Rene almost caused an accident with her VW, but has now created a major
Rene applies her VW brakes
suddenly and they lock, causing her to veer sideways to the right where
she hits a truck parked on the shoulder. She is thrown from the car, badly
injured, and taken to the hospital where she recovers from surgery.
Tragically she is 6-months pregnant and her unborn child dies. She started
out nearly causing a crash by pulling out in front of the GrandAm. Instead
of pacifying Tracie, Rene flipped her “the bird”, and ended up losing her
Tracie continues to drive
her GrandAm to the office where she showed no remorse and bragged about what
she did. She told her supervisor that she'd been in an accident, that “the
other driver had it coming” and that “she wasn't going to take s**t from
no one.” Later, she was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide for
causing the death of an unborn child.
Her supervisor’s testimony
is one factor that contributed to the trail jury’s decision to convict
Mrs. Tracie Alfieri of aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated
vehicular assault. She was sentenced to a one-and-a-half-year prison term.
World wide, about 1.5
million people are killed in road accidents every year. In the U.S. more
than 42,000 traffic fatalities occur every year along with about 6.5
million injuries at a total annual economic cost of $200 billion.
According to the US department of transportation,
42,636 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2004. The
human cost is incalculable. How much could have been saved if they had
only chosen another path out of their anger?
Road accident research
points towards driver error in the majority of cases. As the example
illustrates, emotional incompetence is a major contributing cause of
driver error resulting in these enormous human and economic losses. But
death and destruction from road rage is not the only cost of emotional
The highways are not the
only place where anger escalates into deadly
violence. Sports events often provoke players, fans, and friends to
display uncontrolled anger, aggression, and often violence. Ice Hockey can
be a particularly violent sport. Body-checking—blocking or impeding an
opponent, using either your own body or stick—is an often violent and
important tactic permitted in professional games as well as games
played at several amateur levels.
On July 5, 2000,
truck driver Thomas Junta dropped his 10-year old son Quinlan and two
other playmates off at the Burbank Ice Arena in Reading Massachusetts.
Quinlan and the other boys were wearing full protective ice hockey gear
and carrying hockey sticks. Junta returned several hours later to pick up
the boys. When he entered the arena, he saw the boys were scrimmaging with
other young players, including the three sons of Michael Costin, a 40-year
old part-time laborer. Costin was acting as the informal referee of the
scrimmage. Junta was upset by the roughness of the play and noticed that
“They were hitting each other, cheap shots the whole way . . . Mainly the
other kids—not our kids. Our kids were just, like retaliation things.”
Perhaps because he felt his son was entitled to practice hockey without
being checked, Justin then ran to the door of the rink and yelled, “None
of that cheap bullshit. This is supposed to be fun Hockey.” Defending the
boy’s actions and dismissing Justin’s complaint, Costin then replied
A few minutes later another
boy knocked Quinlan in the face. “I seen my son holding his neck and his
face, and he gets off the ice, and he’s in the locker room crying,” said
Junta. “I told him, ‘If you are going to play here like this you have
to...defend yourself and stuff.’” From outside the locker room, Junta told
detectives, he heard Costin again say, “That's hockey.” The two men began
yelling profanities and soon “we started going at it.” Neither father
backed down, acted calmly, apologized, appealed for a peaceful settlement,
defused the situation, or simply left the scene. Instead name calling
escalated into violence and a fight broke out between the two fathers.
After being separated by bystanders, Junta waited in the parking lot while
his son got dressed. After a few minutes, perhaps worried about his son’s
safety, Junta reentered the arena and encountered Costin.
Unfortunately, the lull in
the fighting was not used to deescalate the hostilities. Instead, Costin
continued to escalate the violence when he tried to punch Junta. Junta,
who outweighed Costin by 100 pounds, quickly pinned Costin to the ground,
punched him several times, and slammed his head against the floor. When
Junta got off the floor, Costin remained there motionless; he could not
get up. The assault injured an artery preventing blood flow to his brain
and he died in the hospital two days later. Medical examination identified
15 separate areas of trauma on Costin's body. In a police interview
shortly after the incident Junta told detectives, “He wasn't afraid of me,
I wasn't afraid of him.”
On January 11, 2002 Junta
was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and sentenced to 6 to 10 years
in prison. Costin’s death left his four children, ages 9 to 12, whom he
was raising alone, without a parent.
This is only one of many
examples where sports events have resulted in tragic violence. Here are
examples of many others:
In 1984, violence erupted
outside of Tiger Stadium in Detroit after the Detroit Tigers defeated the
San Diego Padres in the World Series. A widely published photo from the
riot shows a Tigers fan holding a World Series pennant in front of an
overturned burning Detroit Police car.
In 1990, a soccer match between Red
Star Belgrade and Dynamo Zagreb was abandoned after ten minutes with
thousands of fans fighting each other and the police. One Zagreb player
was seen to kick a policeman, and after an hour long riot, the stadium was
set on fire.
In 1993, Monica Seles was
stabbed by a Steffi Graf fan during a changeover at a tennis match in
In 1994, Vancouver Canucks
ice hockey fans rioted in the streets of Vancouver after their team lost in the
Stanley Cup finals.
During the 1994 World Cup,
Colombia soccer player Andrés Escobar accidentally put the ball in his own
net, causing the team to lose 2-1 to the United States. On his return to
Colombia, Escobar was confronted outside a bar in Medellín by a gunman who
shot the player six times, reportedly shouting ‘goal’ for each bullet
Canton Texas High School
football coach Gary Kinne chose his own freshman son to be the starting
quarterback of the football team. On April 7, 2005 Jeff Roberson barged
into the coach’s office and shot him, critically wounding him in the
abdomen. Roberson has been charged with first-degree felony assault on a
public servent, punishable by up to life in prison.
anger is not
the only deadly emotion; unbridled hate also causes its share of misery.
On October 6, 1998,
college student Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence in Laramie,
Wyoming, pistol-whipped, then left for dead in the freezing night. He died
six days later.
On June 7th, 1998,
Byrd, Jr., was brutally murdered by being kidnapped, beaten unconscious,
spray painted in the face with black paint, tied to the back of a pick-up
truck, pants dropped down to his ankles, dragged 2.5 miles over pavement
through a rural black community in Jasper County Texas called Huff Creek,
leaving his skin, blood, arms, head, genitalia, and other parts of his
body strewn along the highway, his remains were dumped in front of a black
Hate turned deadly over the
1999 Fourth of July weekend, as
August Smith—who recently changed his
name from Benjamin because it sounded too Jewish—returned to Indiana and
Illinois. According to the police and the F. B. I., Smith, a 21-year-old
college student slowly drove his light blue ford Taurus, firing one
handgun and then another at Jews, blacks and Asians. He shot a total of 11
people from the same light blue Ford he used in the spring 1998 to
distribute hate pamphlets asserting that the white race was being crowded
out by Jews, blacks and the “mud people,” his derogatory term for Asians.
Hate crimes like these
continue. According to the
FBI Hate Crime Statistics, 2004 report, there
were 7,649 criminal incidents that law enforcement agencies reported—as
motivated by a bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnicity, or
sexual orientation—including information on 9,035 offenses, 9,528
victims, and 7,145 known offenders in calendar year 2004.
On April 20, 1999, 18
year-old Eric Harris and 17 year-old Dylan Klebold entered the cafeteria
at Columbine High School and carried out what may be the most deadly mass
murder ever committed by students at a United States school. They threw
several pipe bombs and opened fire on their fellow students before
entering the library and killing several students execution-style,
taunting some before shooting them at point-blank range. In addition,
police found more than 30 undetonated homemade bombs hidden in the school.
These two juveniles killed twelve students and one teacher and wounded 23
other students before taking their own lives.
Their deadly actions are not
unique. A recent study analyzed eight incidents of lethal school violence
that occurred between January 1996 and April 1999 in rural or small town
communities. Several factors were found common to most of these young
killers. Most of the offenders apparently lacked emotional support from
their parents. In several cases, parents were either unresponsive or
unsupportive of their child’s emotional needs, and some offenders were
left to care for themselves at young ages. Almost all of the offenders in
this study felt rejected by peers. One stated, “I killed because people
like me are mistreated every day.” In their book
Antisocial Behavior by Young People, Rutter, Giller, and Hagell, (1998) suggested that social
incompetence is the primary risk factor for antisocial behavior among
Two brothers who live only a few miles apart have not spoken in more
than 30 years. A brother refuses to visit his sister who travelled more
than a thousand miles to visit home. It is clearly foolish to trade the
childish satisfaction of spite for these irreplaceable years of lost
time that could be spent together enjoying family members. Yet many, if
not most families, have similar sad stories of emotional incompetence.
The time is lost forever; what could they be thinking?
For a group of 515 senior executives studied, emotional
intelligence was a better predictor of success than either relevant
previous experience or high IQ. In particular, those who were primarily
strong in emotional intelligence were more likely to succeed than those
who were strongest in either relevant previous experience or IQ.
At a national furniture retailer, sales people hired
based on emotional competence had half the dropout rate during their
first year compared to those hired without considering their emotional
A study of 130 executives found that how well people
handled their own emotions determined how much people around them
preferred to deal with them.
successful are people at bike riding, swimming, skiing, or snowboarding when
instead of getting formal instruction they just try to do what comes
naturally? Perhaps they watch other people and decide for themselves
what they should do. In most cases they fail miserably; however with
proper instruction millions of people readily learn these popular
skills. Too many of us are trying to live our lives, lead organizations, and even run the
world, without instruction in the essential social skills of emotional
competency. We can all benefit from skillful instruction.
Technology advances quickly. On December 17, 1903 the Wright Brothers
demonstrated controlled powered flight for the first time. On July 20,
1969 Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first humans to
land on the Moon. Studying and applying the principles of flight led to
this remarkable progress in only 66 years. On December 16, 1947 William
Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain succeeded in building the
first practical point-contact transistor at Bell Labs. Today the tiny
Apple iPOD Nano portable music player uses more than 64 billion
transistors to store and play music. Understanding the principles of
semiconductor physics allowed this remarkable progress in only 60 years.
During a 1952 epidemic in the United States nearly 58,000 cases of polio
were reported; of those 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with mild
to disabling paralysis. Yet the Americas were declared polio-free in
1994. By the year 2000 polio was officially eradicated in 36 Western
Pacific countries, including China and Australia. Europe was declared
polio-free in 2002. Understanding the mechanisms of polio infection and
acting on that knowledge allowed this tremendous progress. Computers, automobiles, home
electronics, photography, plastics, Internet, telephones, medicine, and many other
technologies have progressed very rapidly over the past 100 years or so.
Each of these technologies advanced rapidly once the principles that
govern cause and effect in each discipline were discovered, studied, refined,
Unfortunately human relations have not made as much progress. In many developed
countries, divorce rates increased markedly during the twentieth
century. Genocide continues at a horrendous rate. More than 7,000 hate
crimes occur each year in the United States.
Depression rates in the United States have increased by a factor of
ten over the past century. Anti depressants, mood
stabilizers, anti-anxiety drugs, and other drugs used to modify moods
or stabilize emotions are heavily used. Job satisfaction generally remains low. Road rage kills thousands each year.
Stress, child abuse, spouse
abuse, suicide, underage drinking, bullying, school shootings, violent crimes, street gangs,
drug abuse, alcoholism, addictions, religious intolerance, terrorism,
tyranny, oppression, war, and other destructive behavior
continue to take their human toll year after year.
We do not have to tolerate emotional incompetency any longer.
Learning and applying the principles of
emotional competency can improve our emotional wellbeing.
The need is both urgent and imperative. We can do this.
- “Unresolved emotional pain is the great contagion of our time—of all time.” ~
on Surface Transportation and Infrastructure, US House of Representatives
(Washington, DC), July 17, 1997. Testimony by Dr. Leon James, Professor of
Traffic Psychology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.
— Provides in-depth coverage of many criminal and civil trials.
The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence, TalentSmart
The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence,
by Cary Cherniss, Ph.D.
The Missing Curriculum: Experience with Emotional Competence Education
and Training for Premedical and Medical Students, by Loma K. Flowers, MD
References to Investigate:
A General Theory of Crime by
Michael R. Gottfredson, Travis Hirschi
Youth Violence: a report from the Surgeon General