the emotional intelligence of long experience

Reading this for reasons unrelated to our current kerfuffles, I came across an interesting passage:

As it turns out, scientific research bears out this Confucian insight: “One thing is certain: Emotional intelligence increases with age.” Fredda Blanchard-Field’s research compares the way young adults and older adults respond to situations of stress and “her results show that older adults are more socially astute than younger people when it comes to sizing up an emotionally conflicting situation. They are better able to make decisions that preserve an interpersonal relationship…. And she has found that as we grow older, we grow more emotionally supple — we are able to adjust to changing situations on the basis of our emotional intelligence and prior experience, and therefore make better decisions (on average) than do young people.” Other research shows that older adults seem particularly good at quickly letting go of negative emotions because they value social relationships more than the ego satisfaction that comes from rupturing them. In short, we have good reason to empower elderly parents in the family context — to give them more voice, and let them decide in moments of emotional conflict — because they are more likely to have superior social skills.

This may help to explain why cancel culture is driven by the young: perhaps they don’t have enough life experience to understand the long-term costs of “rupturing” relationships. Maybe not even the short-term costs either.

Samuel Johnson had a young friend named George Strahan, who at one point thought he had said something to offend Johnson. The older man’s reply is one of the most glorious things he ever wrote:

You are not to imagine that my friendship is light enough to be blown away by the first cross blast, or that my regard or kindness hangs by so slender a hair, as to be broken off by the unfelt weight of a petty offence. I love you, and hope to love you long. You have hitherto done nothing to diminish my goodwill, and though you had done much more than you have supposed imputed to you my goodwill would not have been diminished.

I write thus largely on this suspicion which you have suffered to enter your mind, because in youth we are apt to be too rigorous in our expectations, and to suppose that the duties of life are to be performed with unfailing exactness and regularity, but in our progress through life we are forced to abate much of our demands, and to take friends such as we can find them, not as we would make them.

These concessions every wise man is more ready to make to others as he knows that he shall often want them for himself; and when he remembers how often he fails in the observance or cultivation of his best friends, is willing to suppose that his friends may in their turn neglect him without any intention to offend him.

When therefore it shall happen, as happen it will, that you or I have disappointed the expectation of the other, you are not to suppose that you have lost me or that I intended to lose you; nothing will remain but to repair the fault, and to go on as if it never had been committed.

Maybe something of this wisdom applies not just to friends, but to fellow citizens, co-workers — in short, our fellow human beings.