During a recent television interview, Barack Obama was asked if he thought that the unusual bit of fiery passion he showed and the few hard hitting remarks he made in his acceptance speech were enough to quell the criticism that he isn't passionate or tough enough to be president. Apparently, many people seem to find his emotional control and his ability to greet questions, criticisms or alternative ideas with a thoughtful response rather than an impulsive reaction off-putting.
Just as advertisers know how to word deceptive claims in a way that makes them more believable and job candidates can cleverly frame their weaknesses as strengths, political opposition and the media can
present strengths as though they are actually weaknesses. What's worse, is that they can make us believe it.
Obama's ability to remain above the fray in many contentious situations, his tendency to think before he speaks, his willingness to thoughtfully consider before he responds is actually being presented as a weakness? I don't get that. Last time I checked, equanimity was a strength. Let's review.
According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary equanimity means “mental or emotional stability or composure, esp. under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium.” Barack Obama's picture, along with the Dalai Lama's and Mother Teresa's, may as well appear next to this definition. He embodies this quality called equanimity to a degree to which most of us can only aspire. And yet, somehow this is a problem? This means he isn't passionate enough to be president? His equanimity is a hindrance? That's funny, it's one of the most important reasons why I think Obama is well-suited for the presidency. What temperament could possibly be more perfect for such a challenging and stressful job? Whether you preferred Hillary (as I originally did) or you're a fan of John McCain's, you've got to at least concede that Obama has the corner on the equanimity market.
Perhaps the problem is not Obama's equanimity but our misunderstanding of it. Truthfully, so few of us are really able to control our emotions and remain calm in highly charged situations, that maybe we just can't relate to someone who is. We think “there must be something wrong with him” ... "how can he be so calm about everything?” ... "he just must not care deeply enough; if he did he'd get more worked up...he'd show some more fire.” Take it from me – a neurotic in good standing, a person who has spent a lifetime making worry into an art form, someone who feels very strongly and cares so deeply about things that sometimes I think I am too sensitive for this world – and yet has repeatedly been told “how can you be so calm all the time?”...”you're so relaxed about everything”...”your so laid-back.” Yep, I can vouch for the fact that a placid facade does not necessarily indicate a lack of emotion or a passion deficit.
Equanimity is a strength alright, but it is also a rarity. People just see so little of it that they've become suspicious. Never mind that religion, philosophy and psychology have been touting the benefits and desirability of equanimity for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Think about it. Except for that odd fig tree incident, Jesus exemplified equanimity in his approach to being in the world. How about the Buddha? He laid out the path to developing equanimity over two thousand years ago. Modern psychologists? They've been trying to get us to control our emotions to help us improve social relationships, make better decisions and become happier people for decades. Are we now going to suddenly claim that this is all bunk?...that fire and brimstone, machismo and bullying, big talk and impulsive action are what the world needs now?
We need to stop and think for a minute. Is it a show of passion that we care most about, or is it genuine passion for our fellow citizens, the common good, and the future of our world that really matters to us? I'll take the latter any day.