As a professor of rhetoric, I convey to my students that logic, credibility, and emotion are important communicative tools when crafting persuasive arguments. Lately, however, logic and credibility have taken a backseat to emotion; they tend to override both an appreciation for and an ability to accept logic and credibility.

Traditionally, we have given all merit to the logic and rationality represented by the concept of IQ. That is, with possible exceptions of the entertainment and advertisement industries, we emphasize IQ and emotion was an unfortunate fact of life to be de-emphasized or repressed, altogether.  Perhaps this tendency, at its most nascent, is one of the reasons we’ve arrived at such a toxic era in America.  

IQ, alone, isn’t everything. We all know a person who is very intelligent, but his inability to get along with others or adequately convey that intelligence makes him less effective if not ineffective. We may also know a person whose emotions run so high her ability to think, learn, and converse is substantially diminished. When one thinks of the current ineffectiveness of reason and truth and the rise of hate and violence in this country, it would not be a stretch to conclude that the problem lies in a societal dearth of Emotional Intelligence, otherwise known as EQ. Perhaps our inability to get along stems from our inability — because unlearned — to manage emotion. Perhaps Emotional Intelligence is key.

 “Emotional Intelligence” is not a contradiction in terms.  Expert Justin Bariso defines it as “the ability to identify emotions (in both yourself and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior.”  Psychologists like Daniel Goleman, Jack Mayer, and Peter Solovay coined the term and argued that emotions are only a problem when they are out of control and allowed to overtake someone’s entire mentality. However, when managed, emotions can be great tools to enhance communication, success, and overall lifestyle.

Providing people with the skills inherent in Emotional Intelligence would be an excellent alternative for themselves and society, at large. Emotional Intelligence would allow people to process shame and powerlessness into something both powerful and positive. Emotional Intelligence would allow people to slow down enough to process that fear, analyze it, and make a more informed decision about how to move forward. Emotional Intelligence would allow people to recognize discomfort, understand its causes, and work to regulate it in a way that doesn’t disable one’s ability to effectively communicate and deal with difficulty.

What is EQ?

Generally, Emotional Intelligence consists of the following abilities:

1.    The ability to be self-aware;

2.    The ability to manage one’s mood;

3.    The ability to self-motivate;

4.    The ability to empathize and understand others, and to effectively interact and communicate in society.

As a community, we must take measures to achieve these aspects of Emotional Intelligence. What is the point of a high IQ for a person who does not know himself, is controlled by his moods, cannot self-motivate, does not understand others, and does not know how to effectively communicate?

Maybe the biggest cause of our current problems is an inability — again, because unlearned — to process debilitating feelings like shame, envy, and disgust, specifically. Martha Nussbaum, in “Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotion,” describes those with the inability to process these emotions in ways that may sound familiar:

“Because they cannot tolerate anyone else’s having something, they experience intense envy. Because they are unable to experience loss and grief, they convert any setback into resentment. Indeed, the very reality of another person’s existence threatens their control. Because they want no rivals for control of the world, they refuse both empathy and the judgment of similar possibilities. It is obvious enough that such a person will not have compassion.”

Notice the implication of zero-sum thinking in Nussbaum’s words; “win-lose” is preferred over “win-win” in this mindset. However, with Emotional Intelligence intact, these people could process these feelings in ways that do not result in envy, resentment, and a general desire for control of others. Instead, they could channel these emotions into motivation, collaboration, and true fulfillment. This has strong implications for how we communicate to others and to ourselves. Anyone interested in the study or use of effective communication would do well to study Emotional Intelligence.

So, if Emotional Intelligence is the key to righting current wrongs, how do we go about instilling it into society? At the very least, we should talk about it with ourselves and others. Emotional Intelligence should be a deliberate topic in schools, businesses, and other institutions. Perhaps we should have a moratorium on politics and religion to discuss Emotional Intelligence during Thanksgiving dinner. I, for one, think social events centered around the discussion of Emotional Intelligence would go a long way in helping us communicate better as a community.

EQ workshops

This is why I offer talks and workshops on Emotional Intelligence and communication as well as the importance of Emotional Intelligence in professional cultures. The goal of these workshops is to get people to manage the emotions of themselves and others in productive ways. Democracy only works when all voices are heard and deliberation can take place. If Emotional Intelligence can enhance this, it should be a priority in all our lives.

Erec Smith is associate professor of rhetoric at York College of Pennsylvania, associate director of the Institute for Civic Arts and Humanities, and past chair of the York YWCA Racial and Social Justice Committee.

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