Emotional Intelligence

“An eagle is nested on the top of my head. I can have him soar up above me whenever I want and his vision from those heights is a part of me. At all times, I have to stay linked to him by an invisible thread of light…”
Freely adapted from Henri Gougaud’s, Les Sept Plumes de l’Aigle (Seuil, Paris, 1995).

The following text owes much to Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence”. I am also very much indebted to my two children, Zoé and Iannis, who are daily confronted with the refusal of school to take into consideration their emotional abilities and difficulties.
See also an Emotional Intelligence in Schools and Emotional skills on the Internet. You might also like to read Are we learning or just managing competences? and Prayer – going beyond emotional intelligence.

Statue on bench
Transformation, Victor Gulchenko, 2016, Neuchâtel

Emotional Intelligence

Our perception of the relationship between thought and emotions turns out to be somewhat misguided. The majority of us tacitly subscribe to the idea that thought is most appropriate when not clouded by emotions. And, sure enough, strong emotions make it difficult to think straight. Rationalists have even made the elimination of emotion from thought their credo. Yet, clinical experiments show that thought devoid of emotions renders satisfactory decision-making impossible. The problem is not with emotions as such, but with the appropriateness of emotion and its expression. The task is not so much to suppress emotions – every feeling has its value and significance – but to strike a balance between rational thought and emotions. One of the keys to sound decision-making is a greater awareness of our emotions and those of others. Emotions are not just present when we fly off the handle or jump for joy, but are omnipresent in the most subtle ways in all our acts. How often are we in the sway of our emotions without even realising it? The message of El Chura in the quote above from Henri Gougaud’s book points to the need for a vigilant self-awareness at all times, not to be mistaken for a rigid self-control. 

Emotional talent our society can’t afford to waste

At present, the emotional education of our children is left to chance. What does school teach them about emotions? Academic intelligence has little to do with emotional life. Based on rationality, school pays little or no attention to emotions lest they disrupt the class. Academic intelligence offers no preparation for the emotional turmoil of life. On the contrary school disparages emotional intelligence! Many of the natural abilities of children are not in handling complex mathematical calculations or memorising ancient history but rather in perceiving and understanding inherent emotional situations. Others are naturally gifted in handling relationships. Who could be so arrogant as to insist that academic knowledge is that much more important than emotional intelligence? Yet such is the case, to the extent that many emotionally gifted children leave school feeling like failures because they didn’t have the necessary marks in languages or mathematics! Our society can’t afford to waste their talent! 

The murky picture

In a world increasingly centred on the unbridled satisfaction of individual needs, many people feel entitled to let free reign to their emotions without paying the slightest heed to the impact on those around them. Cut off from others in their individualism, some are victims of melancholy from which they can only escape with the help of cigarettes, drink or drugs. All of us are subject to ever increasing pressure as change accelerates and more and more aspects of life become uncertain. We are asked to be flexible, to learn to adapt. Yet being flexible is not so easy when fear and anxiety are just round the corner. At the same time, emotions such as stress, anxiety and anger in large doses are known to have serious adverse effects on physical health. How can we cope with such an apparently helpless situation? 

There is a light! 

There is a general feeling that, except in cases of excess when therapy is called for, there is little we can do about our emotions unless it be to swallow them or to vent them on those around us. Yet something can be done! We are not condemned to be eternal slaves to our ill-placed, seemingly unpredictable emotions or those of others. Basic skills related to handling emotions, settling disagreements peaceably and just plain getting along can be learnt or improved on. If we wish, we can develop human competencies such as self-awareness, self-control and empathy, and the arts of listening, resolving conflicts and co-operation. Not only is our ability at work and the quality of our life at home and at play at stake but also more generally the cohesion of society at large. 

Read about introducing emotional intelligence in schools and about the emotional skills on the Internet. You might also like to read Are we learning or just managing competences? and Prayer – going beyond emotional intelligence

First published on Connected Magazine, 6th Mar. 1997.