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The Startup

PSYCHOLOGY

What Is Emotional Education?

What we weren’t taught in school.

Photo by Rhendi Rukmana on Unsplash

In general, we understand the concept of education. We know the importance of learning about something. Whether it be learning to fly a plane, or just writing between lines, we understand the importance of knowing how to do something; it’s been programmed into us over time.

Let’s take a step back and look at ourselves. Individually, it’s debatable how smart we actually are. Even the best brain surgeons might struggle to operate a coffee machine if they haven’t been given instruction. This is where our forte comes in; the ability to transmit knowledge. In general, the more familiar something is to us, the quicker we will learn.

I’m sure most readers here can use a smartphone well enough, and have probably picked it up much faster than their grandparents. It’s not because we are innately smarter, it’s just that the device seems more familiar (and probably less intimidating) to us.

“Individually, it’s debatable how smart we actually are.”

Having said all this, there is a big difference in where we decide to focus our education. Our energy is finite; we are forced to make choices. Academically, there are plenty of options. Medical, theoretical, scientific, technical and anthropogenic are just a few examples of well-studied fields; the kind of things people study at university and graduate in. Yet, there seems to be less focus on psychological and emotional knowledge. Most of us are anxious as to how the next generation will fare economically, mathematically and physically, yet we attribute less importance to how kind they will be to others.

We live in a system that encourages us to look at things scientifically and empirically, using our brains for reason, rather than our emotions for understanding. As a student, I spent an inordinate amount of time studying the movements of tectonic plates, yet very little understanding basic emotions like happiness, shame or rage.

“Most of us are anxious as to how the next generation will fare economically, mathematically and physically, yet we attribute less importance to how kind they will be to others.”

The general assumption is that our emotional state is less important than our academic one and that it will develop (on its own) over time. No two individuals are alike in this regard, yet somehow, that seems ok. We are not encouraged to understand why we feel angry or sad at times. Instead, we are instructed to find ways in which to change that emotion. In a sentence, we are left to find our own path through our feelings. It’s like expecting the next generation to re-discover the structure of the Earth by themselves.

So why is it that we devote so little time to understanding our feelings? Well, a good starting point is the “romantic” view of emotion. If we look back at 18th-century Romanticism, will find that the idea of applying reason to emotion is strongly discouraged. The spirit of the time was that emotions should be spontaneous and not analyzed or pre-programmed.

“we are left to find our own path through our feelings. It’s like expecting the next generation to re-discover the structure of the Earth by themselves.”

To this day, we are still bound by some of these notions. We pick careers we love, although we know the work will eventually become boring or alienating at some point. We marry people who made or heart flutter, not those who are most compatible with us (although we expect this). It’s like we are afraid to apply cold, callous reason to matters that are felt, not thought.

So where are we? What have we achieved? Well, technologically quite a lot. We have robots to handle our daily chores, apps to manage our tasks, and enough gigabytes of data to land a spacecraft on the moon. Yet emotionally, most of us are still in the dark ages. We are the smartest species on Earth, until someone steals our smartphone. Then, we rage and become little more than primates.

So how can we learn to be emotionally intelligent? Can we come up with a guidebook; a sort of instruction manual to decipher our feelings? Well, acknowledging the need for more understanding is already a good start. Noticing the need for improvement is the first step to becoming more emotionally intelligent. To go back to the coffee machine analogy — you might think you know all its functions until you see someone walking off with that espresso you always wished it could make.

The following series of articles seeks to answer those questions you were never pushed to ask. It’s about things you were never taught at school. The aim is to let go of the myth of a ‘perfect life’ where one is never sad or in pain. Instead, it’s about building a cheat sheet to feeling fulfilled no matter what life throws your way.

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