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The “Jen Ratio”: A More Nuanced View of Emotional Intelligence

Think of the jen relationship as a lens through which you might take stock of your quest to lead a meaningful life.

—D. Keltner, Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life

Did you know that if you engage in five acts of kindness a week, you can lastingly elevate your personal well-being? You might think this is obvious. Try to do it while facing the real world of chaos, a lot of uncertainty for many, and news that is more bad than good. It’s a job to be kind and compassionate.

Think of how any organization would benefit from acts of kindness that are performed hourly and daily. Increasing your positive emotion quotient would directly affect the quality and quantity of innovation!

“Jen” science, the study of positive emotion, has been hinted at for centuries by various philosophers and scientists such as Confucius, Socrates, Plato, and Darwin. But “jen” has only recently come true in the shadows and dying embers of the industrial revolution.

As elite athletes have known for some time, we don’t reach our best through fear. The latter helps us survive in extreme circumstances, but it is not sustainable as a way of being.

The latest global financial crisis has shown that Adam Smith’s “Homo economicus” has its limits. The pursuit of self-interest that is not focused on bringing out the good in others can lead to serious destruction. As Dacher Keltner, author of Born to be Good, reiterates, self-interest, competition, and vigilance have been built into our evolutionary makeup to survive, but these tendencies are only “half the story.” “Homo reciprocans” is a more apt description of our reciprocal nature and the importance of emotions in making financial and other decisions.

The good emotional side of humanity, called “jen” by Confucius, has always been with us. It is gaining ground in our consciousness globally as we become more connected and better informed. Henry Patch, the last surviving soldier to fight in the trenches of World War I, who died at the age of 111 on July 25, 2009, reminded us of our good side. In his memoirs, written after his 100th birthday, he described the pact he and his fellow soldiers made: to avoid killing the enemy if possible. Aim for the legs instead. Scholars have taken up this theme of our emotional good side for several decades.

In the 1990s, Daniel Goleman and other researchers revived emotional intelligence’s rightful place as a driver of great leadership: the higher you rise in an organization, the more important it is.

Not long after, Marcus Buckingham through his Gallup investigation of more than 80,000 managers found that building on employee strengths is a faster route to a positive climate and employee success than trying to change what doesn’t exist ( transform weaknesses).

Lately, even strategic planning has had a face lift with the introduction of the process called “Appreciative Inquiry” or “AI” for short. Like the practices of elite athletes, AI takes the right path by working to create more of an organization’s exceptional performance through aspirational discovery, dreaming, and design.

Starting in the late 1990s, Martin Seligman, who became famous for his “learned helplessness” theory in the 1970s and 1980s, started a growing worldwide movement called “positive psychology.” It is based on the works of famous humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm.

Recently, neuroscience is lending credence to the value of “jen” (meaning “human”), advocated long ago by Confucius. We are programmed to give to others and act cooperatively. When we do, our brain’s reward centers, packed with dopamine receptors, light up and buzz with activity. Confucius recognized that cultivating “jen” developed character in oneself and others, led to a meaningful life, and compensated for violence, materialism, and unnecessary hierarchy.

What is the “jen relationship”? The numerator refers to acts of kindness, compassion, wonder, love, gratitude, and even shame. The denominator embodies “bad” action when instead of establishing one’s character by doing the good of others, one is dismissive, critical, condescending, and contemptuous (all elements that contribute to “bad” relationships). It is well documented that these actions help no one anywhere.

Researchers are now evaluating the “jen ratio” of individuals, married couples, nations, cultures, and different age groups. As Keltner observes, “nations whose citizens bring out the good in others prosper” since “trust (a key result of “jen”) facilitates economic exchange with fewer transaction costs, adversarial agreements, discrimination, and economic inequality.” “.

The winners of several Nobel prizes in economics agree. Cooperation beats fierce winner-takes-all competition in a complex social system where trust must ultimately be a guiding principle. New research from the Center for Neuroeconomics further substantiates the value of trust in generating economic and well-being benefits.

Scandinavian and East Asian countries fare better in this regard than those in South America and Eastern Europe. Even poorer nations like India generate a higher level of trust than richer nations like the United States. “Jen” trumps money!

The “jen ratio” is a simple measure and another tool for leader-managers. The acts of “jen” and “no jen” can be counted (see the Buddhist story “Pebbles in a Bowl at With some deliberate practice, the Managers can generate higher “jen” ratios that lead to higher overall hard and soft performance, supported by increasing momentum from the “progress flywheel” through good deeds.

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