Thursday, June 17, 2010

Today's "Emotional Education Movement"

In an "Ideas" section article in the Sunday Boston Globe on April 5, Drake Bennett wrote about "The Other Kind of Smart." Indeed, there is a growing "emotional education movement," suggesting that social and emotional skills need not just be learned by encounters on the streets of life, but can be broken down into skills and concepts that can be taught "in the same way math and critical thinking can be."

There are times I find it almost unthinkable that emotional literacy would be so overlooked or under the radar. Emotional intelligence not only impacts the quality of our relationships and lives, but also our intellectual development. Neurologist Antonio Damasio showed how "people rendered emotionless by brain damage became not more, but less rational in many ways."

While the heart is a very central and important organ in Chinese medicine, the brain has been the "highest power" in both Western medicine and psychology. I find it fascinating that while many other organs are important in Chinese medicine (including the lungs, the liver and the kidneys), the brain is not nearly as central.

The Western bias towards the brain and away from the heart and other body systems, have impacted the very fabric of our lives. How is it we have built a society focusing so singularly on the brain and brain development, overlooking other essential parts of being a human being? And is it a surprise that a culture that has overlooked emotional factors in both individual and collective living is riddled with threats to sustainability and overrun with bullying behaviors from the schoolyard to the boardroom?

Bennett notes that the emotional research field arose in the early 1990's with the work of psychologists John Mayer of UNH and Peter Salovey of Yale. Mayer and Salovey were the folks who brought "emotional intelligency" to light, even suggesting that our ability to process new emotional information and to work with emotionally rich situations contributed to an emotional IQ (EQ).

Daniel Goleman's 1995 best seller, Emotional Intelligence, written for a popular audience, brought the notion of emotional literacy into the public eye. Because we have not valued emotional literacy or emotional experience, the skills needed to be an emotionally healthy human being have neither been articulated nor taught in our educational process.

Is it a surprise that kids behave in primal ways when they feel upset, insecure, unsure of who they are, threatened, angry or ostracized? If we are not given tools, concepts and language to understand our human emotional responses, then we will respond in crude and often less than useful ways. Likewise, when emotions and emotional reality is judged, suppressed, considered to be "weak" and "unmanly" or even "signs of mental illness," it is unsafe to plumb the depths of this rich and essential territory and gain mastery of what it really means to be a human being.

Introspective skills are at least as important as analytical skills. Self-awareness is essential for being able to have empathy and connection with other human beings. Being aware of bodily feelings and sensations and being able to translate them into meaningful terms is fundamental to knowing who we are, what we need and how to communicate our needs to others in the moment and over time. Learning to listen, hear and reflect back what another person is saying is critical for healthy and mutually respectful relationships.

Emotional literacy skills are now being packaged in the framework called "emotional and social knowledge." And because we are becoming more aware of the intensity and insidiousness of the current bullying epidemic, emotional and social knowledge is gaining more visibility as an essential ingredient in solving the bullying problem.

I do believe that emotional illiteracy is at the root of the bullying epidemic, and emotional literacy is at the heart of unraveling the problem and changing the cultural and environmental context in which we think and live. My hope is that the emerging emotional education movement is not seen as a passing fad or a temporary trend, but part of an on-going, evolutionary groundswell, that in time, we recognize as a critical, transformative and positive step forward in human history.

If we can learn to define, articulate, and work with the power of the heart, we can, together, create a more sustainable and liveable society. Hearts can hear heads, but heads cannot always hear hearts. While differences in thought can divide us, most any problem can be solved through committed, respectful and heartfelt communication.

I look forward to the day when instead of doing therapy or personal growth workshops outside the primary chambers of wordly life, I can proudly step into the classroom and the boardroom, as a recognized and valued player helping people tune and enhance their introspective, self-management, empathy and communication skills, the same waythat today I might edit their writing or critique their business plan.

1 comment:

  1. As I have become more heart oriented I have realized the difficulty in your work. The brain always has definitions and words to view the world the heart is more complex it often is difficult to explain the palette of feeling. Martial arts is heavily heart centered as the heart does not need slow complex thoughts to prepare an action it just does, so it's speed is greater. I find this rather odd but also very true. Most martial artists and soldiers wear their hearts on their sleeves, Wear-as scholars have made some of the nastiest people look at Pol pot, Heinrich Himmler and many others.