Saturday, June 2, 2012

Emotional Hijacking-The Career Girl Murders

One sultry August afternoon in 1963- it was the same day that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the famous 'I have a dream' speech to a civil rights movement in Washington- Richard Robles, a seasoned burglar broke into an apartment in the swanky Upper East side of New York. Just paroled from a three year prison sentence for over hundred burglaries he had committed to support a heroin habit, he wanted, as he claimed years later, to do just one more before giving up crimes. He desperately needed money for his girlfriend and their three year old daughter.

The apartment belonged to two young women-Janice Wylie, 21, a researcher at Newsweek Magazine and Emily Hoffert, 23, a grade-school teacher. Robles hoped no one was home. But Emily was home. Threatening her with a knife, he tied her up. When Janice came in, he started to tie her up too.

As he told years later, Janice warned him that he would not get away with the crime- she would remember his face and help the police track him down. He who had promised himself that this was his last burglary, panicked at her warning completely losing control. In a paroxysm of fury, he grabbed a soda bottle and clubbed them unconscious. Then, he slashed and stabbed them with a kitchen knife.  

Recalling the murders twenty five years later, he bewailed 'I just went bananas. My head exploded' Robles had more than enough time to regret those few minutes of rage. By 2002, Robles still remained in custody at Attica state prison in upstate New York for what became known as the 'Career Girl Murders.'

What happened to Robles who had just resolved to renounce his criminal life that goaded him to perpetrate such horrendous murders? As Goleman writes in 'Emotional Intelligence', it was a neural hijacking. It was that he reacted before he could fully register what was happening.

These hijackings, it is important to understand, are by no means isolated, horrific incidents that lead to heinous crimes like the Career Girl Murders. In less tragic form-but not necessarily less intense- they happen to us with fair frequency. "Think back", writes Goleman, "to the last time you lost it, blowing up at someone-your spouse or child, the driver of another car- to a degree that later, with some reflection and hindsight, seemed uncalled for."

As a leader or a manager, it's necessary that you watch out for such emotional hijackings in yourself and in people in the workplace because we're all more or less prone to it. Although we can't change our neural circuitry, we can learn to stay aware of the triggers of such neural hijackings and protect ourselves from them.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Shooting of Matilda Grabtree

It was a tragedy of errors. Fourteen year old Matilda Grabtree was just tying to play a prank on her parents. When her mom and dad returned home around the wee hours in the morning, she jumped out of her hiding in the closest in her bedroom, 'Boo!'

When they reached home, Bobby Grabtree and his wife assumed that Matilda was staying with her friends. Hearing a faint noise inside the house, Bobby drew his .357 calibre pistol and went to investigate Matilda's bedroom. When the playful kid jumped from the closet 'Boo!', he took her for the imaginary intruder and shot her in the neck. He was so quick to react that he couldn't register what was happening or recognize his daughter's voice. Twelve hours later, Matilda Grabtree died in the hospital.

How did such a tragedy occur? What drove Bobby Grabtree was fear, one emotional legacy of evolution. He wanted to protect his family from danger. In itself, fear isn't necessarily an unhealthy emotion. In fact, it has protected us over the long course of evolution and ensured our survival. Automatic reactions like this, evolutionary biologists assume, have become engraved in our nervous system because for a long and crucial period in human prehistory they made the difference between life and death. Even more important, observes Daniel Goleman in 'Emotional Intelligence', they were critical to the main task of evolution: being able to bear progeny who would carry on these very genetic predispositions. What a tragic irony given what happened at Grabtree's!

Read the full story of the Grabtree Tragedy at

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Story of the Black Driver

"Anyone can become angry-that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way-that is not easy." Aristotle,

The Nicomachean Ethics Opening the prelude titled 'Aristotle's Challenge' to his best seller Emotional Intelligence:Why it can matter more than IQ,Daniel Goleman narrates a personal experience. In one unbearably clammy afternoon in the New York City, Goleman who was heading back to his hotel boards a bus up Madison Avenue.The driver, a middle aged black man with an enthusiastic smile takes him by surprise as he greets Goleman 'Hi,how're you doing?' And he extended the same greeting to the other passengers too. It was the kind of weather that would make people sullen with discomfort. So in that morose mood, few returned his greeting. 

As he drove up Madison Avenue, he started an interesting monologue about the attractions around the city,about a terrific sale, about a new movie opening at the theater down the block. His delight in the rich possibilities the city offered was so infectious that most people cast off their sullen shells they had climbed onto the bus with and when the driver shouted out 'So long, have a great day, each gave a smiling response. 

Writes Goleman, "....The memory of that encounter has stayed with me for close to twenty years. When I rode that Madison Avenue bus, I had just finished my own doctorate in psychology-but there was scant attention paid in the psychology of the day to just how such a transformation could happen. Psychological science knew little or nothing of the mechanics of emotion, And yet imagining the virus of good feeling that must have rippled through the city,starting from the passengers on his bus, I saw that this bus driver was an urban peacemaker of the sorts, wizzardlike in his power to transmute the sullen irritability that seethed in his passengers, to soften and open their hearts a bit"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Synthetic Imagination and Creative Imagination

Just yesterday I came to know that there're two types of imagination, namely Synthetic imagination and Creative imagination. The revelation came to me through Napoleon Hill's classic 'Think and Grow Rich'. According to Hill, synthetic imagination is what we create in the mind through our experience, education and observations. 

It immediately struck to me that I got an abundance of synthetic imagination. Nope, I'm not blowing my own trumpet. The vast majority of people are endowed with plenty of synthetic imagination. Suppose, for example, you want to design an advertisement. It's a breeze if you already have experience in creating an advertisement of the same kind. It's a snap because synthetic imagination kicks in as soon as you begin to find a solution.

When compared, far fewer are gifted with Creative imagination. Where synthetic imagination cannot rescue you, Creative imagination is what you can rely on. But, one should be a genius to draw on Creative imagination. That's because it comes in the form of hunch, inspiration, intuition or what we commonly call gut feeling. Vague as it is, Creative imagination is highly useful in business. Admittedly, I got little creative imagination. But it's something, I believe, we all can cultivate in our lives with a little effort.