What is intelligence? Since the late 19th and early 20th centuries social scientists have been studying this question.
Before that time, the Chinese imperial civil service exams, created in 605 A.D., acted as a form of intelligence testing to find individuals of merit who were able to rule a nation, according to a University of Michigan Internet article.
The French used tests in mental hospitals in the 19th century to separate those who were mentally ill from those who were mentally deficient. Our modern IQ (intelligence quotient) testing came as a result of French psychologist Alfred Binet and his associates in 1905. They were trying to decide ways to test for student success by examining memory, ability to concentrate and problem solving. Their task was to find students who might have difficulty in compulsory public school and give them assistance. Eventually Binet’s standards came to America with the first Stanford-Binet IQ test, created in 1916 and still used today (Cherry, Kendra. “History of Intelligence Testing”).
The study of intelligence has continued and is one of the major topics of most introductory psychology classes.
As the brain has been studied and better understood in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, psychologists have broadened the definition of human intelligence to include, in addition to IQ: emotional intelligence (EQ), which includes understanding nonverbal cues and body language; and physical intelligence (PQ), which includes the ability to visualize and create works of art and to use the body skillfully. Finally, there is spiritual intelligence (SQ), according to the late Steven Covey in his book “The Seven Habits Mastery Series.”
Covey interpreted spiritual intelligence as the ability to act with integrity and honesty in social situations. According to Danah Zohar, a writer, philosopher and motivational business speaker, it also includes, but is not limited to: self-awareness, compassion, tolerance for differences, humility, the ability to see patterns, be spontaneous, the desire to serve, the knack for being able to deal positively with adversity/learning from mistakes, and the ability to grow and change. It is the most important intelligence and interacts with all the other types.
In my life as a teacher and observer of human behavior, I have seen people be strong in one or more of these four intelligences. Some people are extremely gifted with their hands or their bodies, creating art objects or music, or they are incredible athletes (PQ). I have seen others who are good at solving problems (IQ) and getting a job accomplished (Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and the D-Day Invasion). Still others are gifted in empathy, understanding how other people are thinking and feeling. These people know how to care for the feelings and needs of others (SQ). Most of us have a combination of several of these intelligences.
My aunt comes to mind. She has been able to help her husband mainly through encouraging him to become financially successful, and to have not only their children, but also their grandchildren, become balanced, productive individuals with high levels of SQ. Yet, paradoxically, an understanding of the nuances of politics totally escapes her. In this area she tends to think in black-and-white. There is a good and righteous political party, and the other major party is evil. I marvel how someone so gifted in SQ can be so lacking in understanding politics.
Of course, I have also seen those who may be able to pick up nonverbal social cues to manipulate and use others. Others have the gift of making a great deal of money (IQ, EQ and PQ) but in doing so, they ignore raising and caring for their children, not realizing their mistakes until their children are grown and it’s too late.
That’s why Covey and others have said that SQ is the foundation for all the other intelligences. Unless we have spiritual intelligence to do the right thing at the right time with an understanding of the consequences to all people involved, all the other intelligences that we possess are diminished. Until we can act with flexibility, with a tolerance for differences, and have a willingness to learn from our mistakes, we will never be the intelligent people we would all want to become.
How’s your Spiritual Quotient?