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EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

A School of Emotion

How Exactly Do We Learn?

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

To better understand what emotional intelligence is, one has to ask a basic question; how do we learn in the first place? Most of us were brought up in an academic educational system that taught us a number of basic principles.

First of all, we were taught that anything worth a grade needs to be scientifically proven, measurable, and verifiable. If it can’t be repeated in a controlled environment for others to analyze, then it is just a theory, not a fact, and should be treated as such.

“With the exception of teachers, few people actually wonder about new methods of delivering content, whatever that may be.”

Secondly, we were led to believe that how we were taught (in terms of pedagogy) mattered far less than what we were taught. With the exception of teachers, few people actually wonder about methods of delivering content, whatever that may be. As a general rule, we were always led to believe that good teaching should be impartial, unbiased, and not reliant on the teacher’s charisma or charm. This isn’t quite the case — I’m sure you remember a childhood teacher, and probably not because of the subject they taught.

Lastly, the educational system assumed that whatever we understood well would remain in our minds for as long as we needed it to. Our minds were made out to be little hard drives, capable of retaining information for as long as we wanted them to (unless banged against something hard).

So what does all this have to do with our emotional education? Admittedly not a lot; since none of the above will help you on your quest towards emotional intelligence.

“I’m sure you remember a childhood teacher, and probably not because of the subject they taught.”

Let’s start with the obvious; the way in which we learn. Contrary to popular belief, the way in which we are thought, or by whom we are taught makes a big difference. In simpler terms, we are more likely to listen to someone who has good things to say, or knows how to ‘sugarcoat’ a bitter pill. Without knowing it, we tend to block out any information that makes us feel awkward, weak, or downright stupid. It is for this reason that when someone points out our inadequacies, we subconsciously turn a blind eye.

The theory holds true both in academic and emotional education. Have you ever watched an undergraduate squirm or fidget as their lecturer chews them out in front of their peers? We tend to do that as well; all it takes is one (sometimes non-verbal) suggestion that we are not as emotionally mature as we should be. The result? We immediately go deaf, dismissing the offensive opinion as pure nonsense. Ironically, we’d prefer to knowingly listen to a well-written lie, rather than acknowledge the uncomfortable truth about our failings.

“we are more likely to listen to someone who has good things to say, or knows how to ‘sugarcoat’ a bitter pill.”

Our minds aren’t hard drives either — we forget things all the time. What seemed like a sure thing yesterday might feel like a possibility today and unlikely to happen tomorrow. Even things that hurt us emotionally fade over time, leaving us with feelings of self-doubt. If there is one thing we can be sure of, it’s that strong emotions and infectious enthusiasm will eventually fade and disappear completely. Very little sticks.

But what about scientific proof? Surely we provide a reliable pattern to explain the way in which we react to emotional stimuli. Well, as with any scientific experiment, a key factor in obtaining reliable information would be to eliminate external forces. Precautions must be taken to minimize errors. Since we all carry different emotional baggage along our journey, this becomes impossible. It’s like trying to analyze a water molecule while underwater — you are constantly bombarded by external forces, each and every one of them competing for your attention.

“we’d prefer to knowingly listen to a well-written lie, rather than acknowledge the uncomfortable truth about our failings.”

So what’s the moral of the story here? If conventional teaching methods don’t apply to emotional education, can it be taught as a discipline? As with most articles within this series, the answer lies within an invitation to explore oneself, rather than a written conclusion.

Think back to an event that triggered a strong, negative emotion. Was it because of what happened, or perhaps the person who triggered it? Perhaps you had been told it would happen, but chose not to listen. Did you try to attribute some theory or logic to the event, despite knowing that external forces were also at play?

Acknowledging the fact that emotional intelligence requires a different approach to be mastered is already a good start. The more prepared we are, the less misguided conclusions we will arrive at. It’s only when we are able to consider uncomfortable truths, acknowledge external forces, and do away with the notion of systematic logic that we can better understand ourselves from an emotional point of view.

Daniel is a writer, senior teacher, and geographer based in Malta. His main passion is empowering students to fulfill their aspirations and reach their goals.

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Daniel Caruana Smith

Daniel Caruana Smith

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Daniel is a writer, senior teacher and geographer based in Malta. His main passion is empowering students to fulfill their aspirations and reach their goals.