Emotional intelligence could save your life. Literally. Consider the case of Jason Seaman.
Mr. Seaman, a 29-year-old science teacher at Indiana’s West Noblesville Middle School and former defensive lineman for Southern Illinois University, entered his classroom on May 25, 2018, starting his day off like any other. His students would take what would be their final science test of the school year.
As Mr. Seaman’s students took their test that morning, one student asked to be excused from class. He probably just requested a restroom break, but the details aren’t clear. What we do know is that moments later, that student returned to the classroom armed with .22 and .45 caliber handguns and immediately opened fire.
“Mr. Seaman started running at him,” a student witness reported, “He tackled him to the ground. We were all hiding in the back of the classroom behind some desks, and then Mr. Seaman was yelling to call 911, to get out of the building as fast as we could, so we ran out.”
Mr. Seaman’s actions were immediate and decisive, but the damage was done. Before Mr. Seaman could even reach the shooter, seven rounds struck a female student in the face, neck, hands and chest. As he rushed the student, Mr. Seaman was shot three times, once in the abdomen, once in the hip, and once in the forearm. He was able to disarm and detain the student until the school resource officer arrived to assist only moments after the initial shots were fired. Mr. Seaman was taken by ambulance to the Indiana University Hospital, where he made a full recovery. The wounded female student was also hospitalized in critical condition, yet she was expected to recover after having sustained collapsed lungs, a broken jaw, and significant nerve damage.
Let’s study the details of Mr. Seaman’s case in the context of emotional intelligence. Whether he was aware of the process or not, he demonstrated mastery of the five elements of emotional intelligence in a matter of seconds. First, he must have known the student was intensely angry, given the weapons in the student’s hands (social awareness/empathy). Since the urgency of the moment didn’t afford him the luxury of encouraging the student to simply talk through the feelings of intense anger (social skills), he knew he needed to intervene immediately and physically (responsible decision-making). He likely felt terror that a student was actively shooting (self-awareness), but he was able to control that emotion (self-regulation), as evidenced by his heroic actions.
The heart of our emotional intelligence lesson from Mr. Seaman is found in his words during a subsequent television interview: “I care deeply about my students and their well-being,” he noted to the reporter, “that’s why I did what I did that day.”
My goodness. That is powerful. What we learn from Mr. Seaman is that when we don’t have the luxury of time to consciously engage our emotional intelligence skills, our core-level beliefs—our deepest values, fears, biases and prejudices—drive our behavior automatically. Fortunately for the students in Mr. Seaman’s classroom that day, his core-level belief was that his students mattered above all, and it was that foundational belief that resulted in his automatic action to risk his life to save his students’ lives. There you have it, without hyperbole: the case of Mr. Seaman illustrates that the emotional intelligence skillset can save your life.