Emotional Intelligence at the United Nations

Dr. Relly Nadler: Today we have the opportunity to talk about emotional intelligence at the UN and really, across the world. Our guest today is Ramu Damodaran and he is the Chief of the United Nations Academic Impact Initiative. What is that? It aligns institutions of higher learning and research with the objective of the United Nations and the states and people who constitute it.

He’s also the current Secretary of the United Nations Committee on Information. His earlier posts have been with the organizations that include the Departments Peacekeeping and Special Political Questions, as well as the executive office of the Secretary General.

He also has been a member of the Indian (from India) Foreign Service, where he was promoted to the rank of Ambassador where he served as the Executive Assistant to the Prime Minister of India as well as in the diplomatic missions in Moscow and in the United Nations, and a range of national government ministries.

He has been actively involved in mass media in India including print, radio, television, and was a recipient of the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union Award for the Best Radio Documentary.

We have a real expert here on numerous levels of ground the world around leadership and then also in radio.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It’s a pleasure to be here today. I’m really excited that we have Ramu with us. We met Ramu not too long ago at the very first inaugural program on emotional intelligence at the UN. I’m sure Ramu will be talking about that how that came to be.

Today we are so blessed to have with us Ramu Damodaran. I just cannot be more excited to get into this show.

Dr. Relly Nadler: We are interested in Ramu around the idea of emotional intelligence and then we are zeroing in on our new book, Emotional Brilliance. What happens in the moment for you to have a brilliant solution, decision, judgment?

Ramu, we want to start with asking you a few questions about who has been most influential for you? We know that the idea of narrative and people’s personal stories are incredible. Who have been some of the most influential people in your career and your leadership?

Ramu Damodaran: Thank you so much Relly. I think the person who has been most influential to me in my career and my vocation, is someone who I have never had the good fortune to know or to even meet. That is really because of one preset that I, like so many of my countrymen or indeed some many of my globewoman, learned, that is Mahatma Gandhi who we recognize as the father of the Indian nation.

Why I think he was relevant to my calling, if you will, was that he had a very straightforward and simple talisman, which any public executive or leader, or for that matter someone who is a leader in her or his own chosen field, should excise each time they make a decision. It’s simply: think of the poorest, most despairing, most wretched person you have ever seen in your life. Bring that person to mind and ask, will what I’m doing make a difference to her or to him?

Once you use that talisman whether this is working for the government of India which I was very fortunate to do, or now at the United Nations, I think it really sums it all up. At one level you feel that your decisions may be too remote, to distant, possibly too general to make that difference. The more you think about it in the isolation of that moment, that’s a very powerful word that you used just now, being in the moment. Think of it in that moment and see whether that long-term decision will not at some proximate moment in time, make that difference.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That is beautiful!

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Ramu, that just resonates with who you are. When Relly and I were, I want to say, truly gifted to spend the day with you and other colleagues on the subject of emotional intelligence, people like, of course, Dan Goleman, the founders of the Search Inside Yourself program at Google, Joel from the whole Six Seconds program and his lovely wife; it was such a wonderful occasion. What you just described was really the spirit of why we all come together in the world, to make a difference, using emotional intelligence. So thank you for that.

How did you start your career in the diplomatic foreign service?

Ramu Damodaran: It is a combination of a couple of factors, personal as much as academic. My father was in the diplomatic service so I grew up as a foreign service child and unlike many foreign service children I was quite enthralled by the profession and determined to try and make it my home.

When I did my Masters degree in the University of Delhi, I found that with a little bit of extra reading beyond what I was reading for the Masters degree, I could do the national examination for being in the foreign service, as did several of my classmates.

In a sense, getting in was made that much the easier. Once I joined, I realized that I had made the right decision.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Ramu, I, Cathy, we are so privileged to spend some time with you and see how you got there. I would just want to go back to the first thing that you were saying because when we talk about present, and we’ll get into some of the things on emotional intelligence, but just what you said was very, very, moving. The idea of thinking of the despairing individuals as a thought starter when you are making decisions. To me, that is very, very impressive. Are you pretty good at doing that regularly? I think that has to be a hard thing given how many…research has it that we make around 30,000 decisions in a day. Some of them are split-second; do I want to eat this, or eat that, you know. For you to have that presence of mind; how do you go about that? How do you bring that into your present awareness? I think that is amazing.

Ramu Damodaran: Thank you, that’s really very well put. I think the idea of the thought starter. Like any starter, you begin a process without necessarily being assured about where it will lead to or how it will conclude. What I find most instructive about this methodology, if you will, is that it is far from easy. To go back to your split-second decisions; if you are walking down to the subway and you find some homeless person on the street, you have a split second in which to decide whether to toss him a dollar bill or to walk on.

But even if you drop that dollar bill, does it really salvage that despair, or that want, or that need? This is really where I think we come into the much larger question of being able to realize that much of what you are doing, or you are tasked to do, or you choose to do, maybe far beyond the moment. It may be something a little remote in time, but then you realize that it will make a difference, if not immediately. Sometimes you can determine the horizon, or more important it might make a difference in another part of the world where you find a similar individual who is not yet had that degree of misfortune.

The most telling instance I can give you is something which all of us are increasingly becoming familiar with, time exchange. Now, certainly, if I see a homeless person on the streets of New York, or for that matter New Delhi, I don’t immediately associate action climate change as helping her or him. But then I think of a similar person sitting in the town of Chennai in South India, where we have had the most grim water shortage in our history over the last 3 weeks. Then I realize that I am just taking the same image and the face, but transporting the location, but that makes it no less relevant or compelling.

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