EMOTIONAL INTELLEGENCE

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Emotional Intelligence is the quality that enables us to confront with patience, insight and imagination the many problems that we face in our affective relationship with ourselves and with others. The term may sound odd. We are used to referring to intelligence as a general quality, without unpicking a particular variety a person might possess – and therefore we do not tend to highlight the value of a distinctive sort of intelligence which currently does not enjoy the prestige it should.

Every sort of intelligence signals an ability to navigate well around a particular set of challenges: mathematical, linguistic, technical, commercial… When we say that someone is clever but add that they have made a mess of their personal lives; or that they have acquired a fortune but are restless and sad or that they are powerful but intolerant and unimaginative, we are pointing to a deficit in what deserves to be called Emotional Intelligence. In social life, we can feel the presence of Emotional Intelligence in a sensitivity to the moods of others and in a readiness to grasp the surprising things that may be going on for them beneath the surface. Emotional Intelligence recognises a role for interpretation and knows that a fiery outburst might be a disguised plea for help, that a political rant may be provoked by hunger and that concealed within a forceful jolliness may be a sorrow that has been sentimentally disavowed. In relation to ourselves, Emotional Intelligence shows up in a scepticism around our emotions, especially those of love, desire, anger, envy, anxiety and professional ambition.

The Emotionally Intelligent refuse to trust their first impulses or the wisdom of their feelings. They know that hatred may mask love, that anger may be a cover for sadness and that we are prone to huge and costly inaccuracies in whom we desire and what we seek. Emotional Intelligence is also what distinguishes those who are crushed by failure from those who know how to greet the troubles of existence with a melancholy and at points darkly humorous resilience. The Emotionally Intelligent appreciate the role of well-handled pessimism within the overall economy of a good life.

Emotional Intelligence isn’t an inborn talent. It’s the result of education, specifically in how to interpret ourselves, where our emotions arise from, how our childhoods influence us and how we might best navigate our fears and wishes. In the utopia, it would be routine to be taught Emotional Intelligence from the youngest age, before we had had the opportunity to make too many mistakes. It is because we have – until now – not taken Emotional Education seriously enough that our species has grown ever more technically adept while retaining the level of wisdom of our earliest days; with catastrophic results. We are evolved monkeys with nuclear weapons. It appears that the fate of civilisation now depends on our capacity to master the mechanisms of Emotional Education before it is too late.

Emotional Education extends far beyond formal education as we have conceived of it to date. Though it should ideally include specialised courses in every year of school or college, Emotional Education is more than something that should take place in classrooms at the hands of teachers and come to a halt around the age of twenty-one.

The central vehicle for the transfer of Emotional Intelligence is culture, from its highest to its most popular level. Culture is the field that can ritualise and consistently promote the absorption of wisdom. The ‘lessons’ of culture might be embedded in a tragedy or a TV series, a pop song or a novel, a work of architecture or a YouTube film. We can envisage the entire apparatus of culture as a subtle mechanism designed to point us towards greater emotional intelligence.

We will never progress as a species, and will indeed grow into ever greater technologically-armed menaces to ourselves, until we have accepted the challenges and opportunities of properly educating our selves in Emotional Intelligence. Our Technical Intelligence is great of course. It’s led us to tame nature and conquer this planet. But a wiser, saner future for the race must depend on a capacity to master and then seductively teach the rudiments of Emotional Intelligence – while there is still time. 

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