Daniel Goleman in his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, tells a story of his friend, Terry Dobson, who in the 1950s was one of the first Americans to study the martial art aikido in Japan.
One afternoon he was riding home on a suburban Tokyo train when a huge, bellicose, and very drunk and begrimed laborer got on. The man, staggering, began terrorizing the passengers, screaming curses, he took a swing at a woman holding a baby, sending her sprawling in the laps of a n elderly couple, who then jumped up and joined a stampede to the other end of the car.
At this point, Terry felt called to intervene, lest someone get seriously hurt. He saw his chance to test his aikido abilities in real life, in what was clearly a legitimate opportunity. So, as all the other passengers sat frozen in the seats, Terry stood up, slowly and with deliberation.
Seeing him, the drunk roared, ‘Aha! A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!’ and began gathering himself to take on Terry.
But just as the drunk was on the verge of making his move, someone gave an earsplitting, oddly joyous shout: ‘Hey!’
The shout had the cheery tone of someone who has suddenly come upon a fond friend. The drunk, surprised, spun around to see a tiny Japanese man, probably in his seventies, sitting there in a kimono. The old man beamed with delight at the drunk, and beckoned him over with a light wave of his hand and a lilting “C’mere.”
The drunk strode over with a belligerent, “Why the hell should I talk to you?” Meanwhile, Terry was ready to fell the drunk in a moment if he made the least violent move.
“What’cha been drinking?” the old man asked, his eyes beaming at the drunken laborer.
“I’ve been drinking sake, and it’s none of your business,” the drunk bellowed.
“Oh, that’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” the old man replied in a warm tone. “You see, I love sake, too. Every night, me and my wife (she’s seventy six, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench…” He continued on about the persimmon tree in his backyard, the fortunes of his garden, enjoying sake in the evening.
The drunk’s face began to soften as he listened to the old man; his fists unclenched. “Yeah… I love persimmons, too…,” he said, his voice trailing off.
“Yes,” the old man replied in a sprightly voice, “and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.”
“No,” said the laborer. “My wife died…” Sobbing, he launched into a sad tale of losing his wife, his home, his job, of being ashamed of himself.
Just then the train came to Terry’s stop, and as he was getting off he turned to hear the old man invite the drunk to join him and tell him all about it, and to see the drunk sprawl along the seat, his head in the old man’s lap.
That is emotional brilliance.