You should remember all the blessings that you have, each and every day. Oftentimes, we take those graces for granted and forget how privileged we are to have them. When you remember that nearly half of the world goes to bed hungry every night, that 20% of the world makes less than a dollar a day, and another 20 to 30 percent makes less than two to three dollars daily, and when you remind yourself than you having clean water, electricity, etc., is a great privilege that many people around the world have no access to, you suddenly become much less disgruntled, depressed, or down. You appreciate what you have a lot more, including your job, relationships, health, etc., and your behavior and attitude improves, and as a result your EQ increases.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Joseph Salim.
Dr. Salim is a graduate of Temple University School of Dentistry with honors in 1992, and thereafter completed his General Practice Residency at the Lutheran Medical Center in New York in 1993. He has received numerous awards, and in 1989 was the recipient of a grant for outstanding academic achievement. He is an active member of the American Dental Association, the Academy of General Dentistry, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the American College of Forensic Examiners.
He has also completed several training workshops and courses in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea at the Greater New York Dental Meeting and elsewhere, as well as the usage of Botox and other fillers for the treatment of TMJ disorders, bruxism, clenching, and “gummy” smiles.
Dr. Joseph Salim is Founder and Executive Director of Virtue Foundation, a non-profit organization with Special Consultative Status to the United Nations. The Virtue Foundation’s mission is to increase awareness, inspire action, and render assistance through healthcare, education and empowerment initiatives. The foundation seeks to provide both short-term impactful and long-term sustainable development solutions to communities across the globe.
He has also served on the boards of directors of several other nonprofits, including the French Institute Alliance Française, One to the World, and the Nour Foundation, and as an advisor to Women in the World and Asia Society.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
As a child, I grew up in a multicultural household in Iran, with my father being of French, Italian, and Russian ancestries and my mother being of Persian and Turkish heritage. My father was the CEO of the largest division of the National Iranian Oil Company, but was forced out of his position in 1979, after the Shah of Iran was ousted from power. As a 13-year-old, I witnessed violent protests against the government, and less than a year later, the Iran-Iraq war started, all universities closed down, and traveling outside the country became very restricted. Following these events, I had no choice but to flee the country in order to continue my education in Europe and the US. When I was 17, I attempted to escape the country through its borders with Turkey but was arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a couple of miles short of reaching Turkey. Following my release, I tried to leave the country for a second time, in spite of extreme dangers involved in doing so. A little over three months later, I escaped through the borders with Pakistan, and despite many dangerous twists and turns along the way, I finally succeeded to leave Iran. This journey entailed three days and nights on the back of camels going through tumultuous deserts and mountains without any food and water. I finally made it back to Milan, Italy, 15 days after the start of my trip, while many other people I had encountered throughout my journey never made it. Eight months later, after spending time in France and Italy, I was finally able to come to New York, to start my university studies.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
While in New York, I was studying electrical engineering and computer science at Hofstra University, and I was doing quite well. I was still unsure whether I wanted a lifetime career in technology. In a state of confusion, I decided to seek the opinion of the wisest and the most trustworthy person I knew, a fatherly figure whom I have always had the utmost respect for. After a heart to heart with this man, I began to realize that I truly wanted a career to help others. He had remarked that I was a people’s person, and that I could use my skills to become a great healthcare professional. Since that conversation, I began to develop an open mind and started taking biology classes for the first time in many years. Within a year, I knew that I truly liked to be in the field of healthcare, and based on his suggestion I gravitated towards dentistry. Once I got accepted and started my dental education, I knew this was the right career choice for me all along, and I now owe my success to this wise man.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
When the tragic events of 9/11 happened, I wanted to do my part to help make the world a better place. I knew time had come for us to care about global issues, and that we could no longer distance ourselves from the world’s many problems. I set out to create a nonprofit with the mission to educate people about the most prevalent global issues and to motivate them to get involved. I knew starting my own foundation and running it while practicing full-time as a dentist, and being a father to two young children was a daunting task, but my father-in-law kept motivating me by telling me that I could make this goal a reality regardless of how busy I was. He kept encouraging me to move forward and be fearless in my approach to creating a successful and effective charity. I took his advice to heart and in spite of some of my friends and relatives doubting me, I grew the foundation quickly and effectively. My charity, the Virtue Foundation, became an NGO with the Special Consultative Status to the United Nations, and it achieved this fastest than any other nonprofit before it. To date, it has helped tens of thousands of people in over 20 countries, through sustainable development programs in healthcare, education, and access to justice. The work of Virtue Foundation and its outreach has been very instrumental in making me who I am today. After 18 years from its creation, this nonprofit continues to grow as more and more volunteers join in, and more reputable organizations and corporations continue to partner with us, and support us financially, strategically, and logistically.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
When I was studying dentistry at Temple University in Philadelphia, we had to start seeing patients from the summer between the first and second year, unlike most other schools that did this a year later. Moreover, unlike the other schools when you would first start by doing simple procedures such as dental cleanings or fixing simple cavities, at Temple University, you were randomly given patients’ charts and had to start with whatever that patient needed. In my case, the first patient I was ever assigned to needed a root canal therapy, one of hardest procedures in dentistry. It would not only be the first dental procedure I had to do on a real patient instead of a mannequin, but it would also be the first time I ever aestheticized a patient. It goes without saying how nervous I was the night before and, in the hours leading to this encounter. I had done several root canal treatments before, but they had all been done on extracted teeth and not on a live person! When my patient asked me if I had ever done this before, I quickly responded positively, stating that I had done this six times before, referring in my mind to the extracted teeth I had done this procedure on. She assumed that my positive answer and experience was based on real patients and not extracted teeth, and didn’t ask me any further questions. Even though I had not technically lied to her, but I had created an image that I had the necessary experience. Thankfully, this strategy worked, and the results of the treatment came out quite well!
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
I would tell a young person seeking advice to be as multifaceted as possible. To be successful in the complex world of today requires the person to not only be good in their field of choice, but to have a good understanding of psychology, business and financial aspects of life. Just having the skills to perform a job is not sufficient to thrive in your career. Moreover, in addition to needing a strong willpower and perseverance in order to achieve one’s goals, we need to be confident. Oftentimes fear of failure, fear of the unknown, and our own insecurities make us too risk-averse, hampering our growth and development. If we truly want to achieve a worthwhile goal, we need to realize that there will be many bumps on the road to success, and that we may fall many times along the way. However, just like a champion boxer that needs to go the distance of 15 rounds and may get hit hard along the way, we owe it to ourselves to get up each time we fall. We need to regroup and strategize during the one-minute breaks between two consecutive rounds, and we need to sustain our efforts until the very end. Fearless pursuit of our goals and dreams, giving them our utmost efforts, while also respecting the rights of others and treating them properly are the keys to sustainable success in life. We should not allow the gloomy rhetoric propagated by the media, such as what we see nowadays with the current pandemic, push us away from taking calculated risks.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book Path of Perfection, written by Professor Bahram Elahi, has had a significant impact on my life. It continuously talks about humans as bidimensional beings, needing to grow and develop both sides of their lives simultaneously, the material side and the spiritual side. It talks about the importance of respecting others, putting ourselves in their shoes, and treating them the way we like to be treated. By inviting the readers to be mindful of what they do and what they say throughout the day, and trying to assist others in need whenever we can, it has created a lasting image on my mind, helping me to pay much more attention to the consequences of my behaviors and words before I do or say anything.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“The richest person in the world is not the one who has the most; it is the one who needs the least”. Oftentimes, when we are in pursuit of our professional and material goals, we forget what is most important in life; how much we have grown as people, how many lives we have touched positively along the way, and what kind of legacy we are going to leave behind. Once we realize that material achievements are ephemeral and there are more important things in life than financial success, we pay less attention to increasing our net worth and fortifying our bank accounts, and we gravitate towards meaningful objectives such as reaching out to the less fortunate.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Through my charity, the Virtue Foundation, we are developing an interactive map based on gathering impactful data, machine learning and artificial intelligence that matches the areas of need with current available resources. It is analogous to a dynamic Google map in the nonprofit world that shows all available resources in a given country in real time and the areas where needs have not been met yet, enabling nonprofits and other organizations to make their interventions more impactful, preventing redundancies and waste in the humanitarian and charitable endeavors. The project is called Data Mapping.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
I believe having minored in psychology in college and having studied people’s behaviors over the years and in all aspects of life, whether they are patients within my dental office or the recipients of the help offered by my charity halfway around the world, has provided me with an abundance of data about human nature. Believing that being a renaissance man and learning about many aspects of life can make you a more complete human being, I have devoted a considerable amount of time to the development of my psychological and spiritual aspects of life, in addition to the material and professional sides. I don’t believe someone can truly become an authority in Emotional Intelligence, as increasing your EQ is an ongoing task that will continue until our very last day in life. However, there are those who stand out from others as they are more aware of who they are, possess strong communication skills, are naturally kind and compassionate, and know how to control and manifest their emotions at appropriate times.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional Intelligence is knowing how to control one’s emotions, how to cultivate and channel the right emotions at the right time and in the right direction, to achieve our goals. Having a high EQ means having the ability to block or decrease the negative and harmful emotions that create an emotionally driven cognitive fog, which obscures our vision and judgement. Being successful in life is directly correlated with how well one can balance the rational side of life with its emotional side. Emotional Intelligence or EQ is a telltale sign of how one manages his or her emotions to his or her advantage, and how much mastery over his or her emotions one possesses.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
The rational side or what we may simply call intelligence, provides the recipe and the ingredients needed for making a great dish, and the emotional side is all the spices needed to make that dish tasteful and edible. Without the proper spices, the dish will be too bland and tasteless, and putting too much of a spice such as salt or pepper, could make the dish unpalatable. You can’t make the dish without the proper ingredients and the right recipe (rational intelligence), but you also need the right spices in correct quantities (emotional intelligence), to become a masterful chef.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Rationality and the know-how should occupy a bigger portion of a well-balanced and successful person’s life, but without mastery of emotions, one will certainly underachieve. For example, anger is needed to advance in life, but needs to be channeled properly. Instead of getting angry at others and at society at large, one should become angry at oneself for underachieving. The emotion of anger once controlled properly, can push and motivate us to set higher standards for ourselves and achieve our goals. Another example is the emotion of competitiveness. Without it we become complacent, and too comfortable with the status quo. When the emotion of competitiveness is managed and channeled properly, it pushes us to compare ourselves with others, and it ignites a sense of competition within us to want to improve ourselves. It can help us persevere, stay the course, and pushes us towards betterment of our lives. When the emotion of competitiveness is too much and we lose control of it, it turns into jealousy, where we are envious of others, wish for their failures, and no longer have the drive for self-improvement.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
Achieving higher levels of emotional intelligence or EQ requires a much higher level of self-knowledge, and it starts with delving within, gauging our strengths and weaknesses, and formulating pragmatic plans to combat our weak points, while cultivating our strengths. The most successful people in life have a fine balance between their IQ and their EQ. I believe living in the Middle East and Europe as a child before coming to the US, and growing up in a multicultural and multilingual household, has exposed me to a multitude of experiences that most teenagers would never go through. Having to interact, communicate, and get along with so many people from different religious, racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds has truly made me a more tolerant and openminded person. When I was arrested in June of 1982 during my first attempt to escape Iran, I was interrogated a couple of times by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards during my capture. Somehow, I was able to find the inner strength to remain calm and unfazed throughout those extremely difficult and scary times, as I continuously denied that I was fleeing the country, despite the mental and psychological pressures placed on me to confess. I was able to overcome my fears and remain strong, controlling my emotions to such an extent that my captors had no choice but to let me go in the absence of any tangible proofs against me. I never broke down during those interrogations even though I was only 17, and my resiliency and the way I was able to remain brave and composed throughout this ordeal, allowed me to be set free the next day.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
By properly using Emotional Intelligence, you can be a successful leader in the business world. By identifying your own emotions and those of others around you, whether they are your employees or employers, you can better adapt and relate to them. When you have mastery of your emotions, you know what to say to whom, and when. Whether it is through a word of encouragement, showing of empathy, or a by giving a motivational talk, you learn how to have the pulse of people in your hand. For example, as a dentist, I spend a few minutes before and after each appointment, talking to every patient about issues that matter to them apart from their treatment related concerns. We talk about their jobs, their relationships, political, financial, and economic topics among others. This allows me to know a lot more about the person behind the façade of a patient, and it establishes a better rapport and connection between us. This has increased their trust in me, and I see its results reflected in both the quantity and quality of positive reviews they voluntarily leave behind on Facebook and Google. Moreover, I use my power of strong memory to recall most conversations I have had with these patients even months after their initial visits. They view this as a positive surprise that 6 months later, I can still remember our talks in detail, which has helped create much stronger relationships between us. In fact many of my patients have continuously reached out to me for advice regarding different aspects of their lives because of it.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
When it comes to relationships, being able to manage, control, and channel your emotions properly is of utmost importance. You need to be aware of who you are and be able to be in touch with your own emotions and your true self. You need to foster and develop true compassion and kindness within. You need to be able to make the necessary sacrifices throughout that relationship. Since both people in a given relationship are dynamic entities, evolving and changing constantly, you need to keep up with those changes. These changes require us to adapt to the new dynamics of that relationship, and in order to achieve this, we need to learn how to communicate effectively. Not only it is important to know what to say, but it is perhaps even more important to know how to say it. For example, let’s suppose you are in a relationship where you cook and the other person washes the dishes, and this has been an agreement and a mutual understanding that you have had for a while. Suddenly, over the past several days, you realize that your partner leaves the dishes unwashed and goes to bed. After a few days, this starts to bother you. You have several options at your disposal to approach this situation. You can point to the agreement and directly complain to your partner, regardless of how he or she feels about it. You can show resentment or anger while making your point, and highlight issues such as lack of fairness and breaching your agreement as the basis of your displeasure. Technically speaking, you may be right, as you have done your part of the agreement while your partner has not. Being right in this situation may not be worth hurting the relationship. Unbeknownst to you, your partner might have had a very tough week at work. If you don’t ask the right questions and inquire properly, you would never know this. Moreover, instead of winning the argument and proving your points, you may need to take the context of this situation into account. Even if you decide to bring up your arguments, it is best to wait till your partner is in a better mood, and when his or her issues at work are resolved, etc., before you have that discussion. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with you washing the dished too for a few days, as winning a small battle is not worth losing the war!
Showing kindness and compassion and putting the interests of others in front of your own is the key to winning people over, in any type of relationship.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Proper mental health is directly related to your degree of self-awareness and knowing how to cultivate positive emotions and fend off the negative ones. When you have meaning in your life and a purpose for which to exist, you will have a more positive outlook. You consider yourself a student of life and a work in progress, understanding that your personal growth and development is directly correlated with how your emotional intelligence is evolving. You are more motivated to advance in life and make the necessary changes within to accomplish your objectives. You foster the spirit of compassion and kindness, both in words and actions, and become more liked by others. You feel your life is richer and that you are contributing to those around you. When you have a mission in life and are contributing to greater good, you realize that you are part of the solution to the world’s many issues. You understand what you do matters, you decode life’s messages better, and your emotional intelligence grows as a result. Moreover, when you are more empathic towards other people’s needs, and can control negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, and envy towards others, you feel better internally, as life becomes much more pleasant. You don’t lash out, you don’t seek revenge, you are not abusive, and you are at peace with yourself and with the world around you. Your higher emotional intelligence properly nourished your psyche and soul, and your mental health status becomes much more improved as a result.
Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
First, you should remember all the blessings that you have, each and every day. Oftentimes, we take those graces for granted and forget how privileged we are to have them. When you remember that nearly half of the world goes to bed hungry every night, that 20% of the world makes less than a dollar a day, and another 20 to 30 percent makes less than two to three dollars daily, and when you remind yourself than you having clean water, electricity, etc., is a great privilege that many people around the world have no access to, you suddenly become much less disgruntled, depressed, or down. You appreciate what you have a lot more, including your job, relationships, health, etc., and your behavior and attitude improves, and as a result your EQ increases.
Second, by developing our sense of compassion we can definitely grow our Emotional Intelligence. If we volunteer for a nonprofit whose mission resonates with our values, especially if the objective of the nonprofit is to help those less privileged, we learn so much more about ourselves, become much more grateful in life, and this increased level of self-awareness and genuine kindness will certainly boost our EQ.
Third, by learning how to communicate with others and showing our true self, we can certainly fortify our EQ. Oftentimes, due to insufficient communication skills, we miscommunicate our true intentions, causing others to misjudge us. We should not assume that others should simply understand our intentions. They should be communicated well, allowing the other person to establish a better connection with us. When we are an effective communicator, we can gather more information about others’ feelings and thoughts, allowing us to better read them. By being more transparent and communicative with others, we can definitely increase our Emotional Intelligence.
Fourth, by remembering that the biggest difference between human and animals is our ability to control our instincts, we can learn how to manage our emotions much better. This will require us to have ample patience. When our emotions are raw, immediately after an unpleasant event for example, we can become emotionally hijacked by those harsh feelings and act in irrational or exaggerated ways. Emotions can create a cognitive fog, preventing us from seeing the truth behind life’s events. We need to cultivate patience and allow those negative feelings to subside and the emotional fogs to dissipate, before taking action. For example, if one of my employees has done something wrong and he or she is at fault, I may be quite angry, and perhaps rightfully so. However, lashing out in front of my patients and others and embarrassing him or her for that misdeed is the wrong thing to do. I should be patient and let my angry emotions subside, and find the appropriate time and place to address that employee in a constructive manner instead.
Fifth, we need to remember the golden rule, that we should always treat others the way we would like to be treated, while abstaining from doing unto others what we also dislike. By putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and viewing the world from their perspective and not just from our own’s, we can go a long way towards increasing our emotional intelligence. This will require us not to judge others, remain patient, while realizing that people react differently based on a magnitude of factors including genetics, upbringing, culture, religion, etc. We need to respect others and appreciate our differences. For example, if I have a patient from a foreign country with limited English language skills, I should take my time explaining my findings and treatment options, remembering that if the situation was reversed where I didn’t know the culture or language, how I would want to be treated. Developing an inclusive view of the world and incorporating the aforementioned golden rule will most certainly increase our EQ.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
I don’t believe that our current education system does a good job cultivating Emotional Intelligence. Since we are living in an increasingly global world where people of different cultures, races, religions, and ethnicities live side by side, we need to know much more about how others think and feel. Cultural sensitivity courses as well as courses focused on developing a boarder set of skills beyond one’s given field of studies can certainly help. There is not enough of an emphasis on ethical and moral aspects of life during school years, including in my field of dentistry. Education systems need to train global citizens of 21st century, who are in touch with their own feelings and emotions, have empathy and compassion towards others, especially the underprivileged, and have a universal understanding of how our fellow human beings think, talk, and act.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Schools currently do a great job addressing the rational side of life, but they need to do a lot more to also tend to the emotional side of life. Incorporating the abovementioned type courses as part of any professional studies can definitely help increase students’ emotional intelligence.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have a private meeting with someone like Bill Gates. I truly appreciate what he has done as a person, not only in the professional realm of life with one of the most successful corporations in history, but also as a philanthropist and a pioneer in establish equity in global healthcare. I have done my utmost to do what he has done at a much smaller scale with both my dental business, Sutton Place Dental Associates, and with my charity, the Virtue Foundation. Since the mission of my nonprofit is to empower women and children through sustainable development programs in healthcare, education, and access to justice, I would like to learn whatever I can from Bill Gates, to help me take my efforts to the next level.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.