Psychology Today defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” The three primary emotional-intelligence skills are:
1. Emotional awareness, or being mindful of your own emotions and empathetic toward the emotions of others. Awareness of your own emotions isn’t always as easy as it may sound. Especially for people who have had it drilled into them that “good children don’t get angry” or “crying is a sign of weakness,” it’s entirely possible to think one is experiencing entirely physical symptoms when in fact they are rooted in emotional causes, or to believe that chronic tardiness or dangerous behavior are simply bad habits rather than passive-aggressive expressions of negative emotions. The first step in emotional awareness is being willing to acknowledge the way you feel like feeling—without passing judgment on yourself or cowering in your comfort zone. Emotional growth begins with that step, and, when nurtured, culminates in the ability to understand others’ emotions without ascribing their behavior to malice or stupidity. Hence, emotional awareness can be considered the first step in training the world out of us-vs.-them problems.
2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them in practical ways to such tasks as thinking and problem-solving. It’s important to acknowledge that no emotion is evil in itself. Anger can lead someone to open fire on a crowd or to take an open stand on the side of the helpless. Concern can turn a person into a worrying wreck or be a major factor in discovering a new medicine. Love can be the basis of a mutually fulfilling relationship or a dangerously codependent one. The difference lies in whether someone channels the emotion’s energy in positive directions, or takes the easy way out and lets that energy fester into a major negative force.
3. The ability to manage emotions, not only in the matter of regulating your own feelings, but also in being able to direct your emotional energy for positive influence on others. The most emotionally intelligent people radiate contagious happiness, can reduce pain with a gentle look or touch, and have a calming effect on the most worked-up of us. And these usually aren’t the people who go around saying “cheer up,” “count your blessings,” “settle down,” and the like—in fact, that approach is more likely to fuel self-pity and anger than defuse them. People can feel the difference between genuine (often nonverbal) empathy and the cold logic of a “snap out of it” attitude.
At Shady Oak, we place a high value on emotional intelligence, and we proactively train our students in the above “soft skills,” emphasizing these skills as means of equipping children for success inside and outside the classroom. We believe that early learning of emotional skills is the secret to eliminating bullying and antagonism, and to fostering community and understanding that can spread throughout the larger world.