Vagneur: Aspen’s other power of four

“It was close,” as they say, but if you’ve become a little jaded about the Aspen Idea, touted in front of us at almost every opportunity as though it’s the end-all tribute to deep thinkers over at the Institute, maybe we should ponder again. Walter Paepcke himself might be a little put-off to realize that it’s not just “Mind, Body and Spirit,” but “Emotional,” as well.

How do you figure that, Vagneur? I was afraid you’d ask, but I’ll take a crack at it anyway, fully admitting I’m not a psychologist nor a philosopher, not even a part of any of the roving think tanks dotted over our landscape. But I do have a Ph.D. from Aspen State Teacher’s College.

The four intelligences, attributed to modern thinkers, not in any particular or necessary order are: 

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual

For many Aspenites, not to say locals, the Physical plays into the lives of most of us. There’s a plethora of physical activities: biking, hiking, jogging, skiing, tennis — why make a list — you know them all, or at least have heard of them. Plus, there’s the nutritional part, nothing like a good steak, vegetarian salad, or a short fast. The one aspect likely overlooked or not thought about much is management of stress and plenty of rest.

It’s difficult to manage the stress and get enough rest when faced with holding down two or three jobs, dealing with staff shortages, and most particularly facing rudeness from those folks who are “entitled,” at least in their own minds. That’s all part of the Aspen Idea as well — not talked about much — it just doesn’t have the same intellectual altitude when unwinding over a cold one at your favorite watering hole.

The Mind, or the Mental, is where our dreams germinate. That’s also where we get hung up on IQ, like high IQ (intelligence quotient) means smarter. Or not. IQ refers mostly to academic intelligence, so the guy knowing how to run complicated farm machinery may blow away educated scholars as far as native intelligence goes, but not on a test. Not all people in our world can read well enough to take an IQ test, but in terms of practicality, a few of them are some of the smartest people I know.

If you want to test your intelligence acuity, try explaining something complicated you think you know really well in answer to a young child’s question. In a manner they can truly understand. It can make your brain hurt as you dig deep for veracity.

One of my favorite activities is playing mental gymnastics with a horse that doesn’t want to be caught, especially in a large area. Most horses can read your body language better than you can read his (he usually knows the odds are in his favor), and the game is played until the horse, or human, admits defeat. If the horse wins, it somewhat salves the loss as you watch the steed gallop off, tail high in the air, wind-blown mane, with head uplifted, swinging from side-to-side as in “I got you, sucker.”  

Emotional is the one missed, or at least not enumerated by the Paepcke group. Thinking about this gets me upset, particularly when I’m writing on a rainy day, knowing this intelligence is informed by feelings, either your own or of those around you. It tends to give you grounding. “You can do anything you think you can do,” or “be anything.” You’ve heard this before, which implies that you must be in control of yourself to reach your goals. Being empathetic toward others, studying the behavior of others so you have something to compare yourself to. Do you let your friends sometimes have first tracks in your favorite stashes, or do you hog them all for yourself? Does it matter who bought the last round? To further emotional intelligence is to learn to trust and to have stable relationships.

“Mind, Body and Spirit.” Ah yes, where would we be without the Spiritual? Is that what puts meaning in our lives, or does being spiritual give us the ability to find meaning? Spiritual doesn’t necessarily mean being religious — only if religion gives your life meaning. Being honorable is part of this; being able to make promises, and completing the circle by being able to keep them.

Anyway, “Mind, Body and Spirit” isn’t the final line of the Aspen Idea story as most writers throw out there — you gotta play all four of these intelligences together to make a sustainable run through this world and beat the odds. This also points to the lesson we all should adhere to in our daily lives — question everything.   

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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