November 2, 1995 in Features

Study In Emotion Much Of Society Lacks Emotional Intelligence

Loraine O'Connell Orlando Sentinel
 

First of two parts

Surely you’ve known some - people who are smart, or at least moderately intelligent, yet never seem to be content, can’t seem to hold a job or hold on to a meaningful relationship.

Then there are the extreme cases we read about every day - the people who turn to drugs or booze to cope with their unhappiness, thereby making everyone in their lives unhappy; the people who kill each other over a traffic mishap or a pair of sneakers.

Why can’t they behave like the rest of us?

Because they haven’t been schooled in “emotional intelligence,” says Daniel Goleman, a New York Times reporter and author of a book by the same name.

Our IQ, or intelligence quotient, accounts for only about 20 percent of our success in life, leaving 80 percent to other factors, writes Goleman, who has combed the available research on how the brain and emotions interact.

A big chunk of those “other factors,” he says, can be characterized as emotional intelligence: “abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.”

And all of those abilities can be learned, Goleman says. Hey, wait a minute. Aren’t these the very skills parents have been teaching their offspring for a few millennia now?

Yes, but times have changed, Goleman contends.

“The kind of general family and community interaction that kids used to have where they learned a lot of these things don’t happen the way they used to,” he said in an interview.

“It’s social and economic forces. Parents are strapped, pressed to make ends meet. A lot of them have three or four jobs. More and more kids spend more and more time alone in front of TV, playing video games, online, in the mall, waiting for Mom and Dad to come home.”

The upshot?

Kids who are “more aggressive, more lonely and anxious, more disobedient and impulsive, more likely to act before thinking and to destroy property,” he says, quoting the results of a national study that compared teachers’ and parents’ assessments of kids in the mid-1970s and in the late ‘80s.

Nevertheless, even as adults, we can learn to control our anger, soothe our anxiety, short-circuit our melancholy moods, choose alternatives to violence, see another person’s point of view, and communicate productively with our spouses, colleagues and kids.

Many adults who never got the chance to develop their emotional tools are getting it now in therapists’ offices.

In “Emotional Intelligence” (Bantam, $23.95), Goleman offers advice - based on research - for getting along better with your spouse; developing the optimism and hopefulness that can help you be healthier; controlling your unpleasant emotions; and developing empathy. He also includes techniques for “coaching” your children in these skills.

Obviously, the best time to absorb these skills is in childhood, and Goleman says schools have to take up the slack being left by parents who are either too busy, too indifferent or too lacking in these skills themselves.

In his book, he points to only half a dozen programs nationwide that are really addressing what he calls “emotional competences.”

Most public school systems are tackling these skills in a helter-skelter approach.

For instance, many programs having to do with self-control and self-respect are aimed at kids at risk for dropping out.

Then there are the curricula geared to helping kids discover and develop their particular talents, in line with the theory of “multiple intelligences” championed by psychologist Howard Gardner.

In his 1983 book, “Frames of Mind,” Gardner disdained the view of “intelligence” as strictly the logical-mathematical and linguistic skills measured on IQ tests. He suggested that “intelligence” incorporates many different talents - musical, bodily kinesthetic (sports, dance, hand-craftsmanship) and interpersonal-intrapersonal, for instance.

Goleman’s focus, of course, is on the interpersonal skills - the ability to understand other people and relate to them effectively - and the “intrapersonal” skills - the insight to “know thyself.”

These are the most needed tools in everyday life, he says, and every child should be encouraged to develop them to whatever degree is possible for that child.

Next week: Soothing anger and worry.

MEMO: 2 Sidebars appeared with story: 1. Coping with melancholy Stop ruminating. Dwelling on what’s making you sad only intensifies the emotion. Instead, challenge the thoughts at the center of your ruminating: How realistic are they? What can be gained by focusing on them at this point in your life? Replace them with positive thoughts and images. (“I did the best I could under the circumstances” instead of “I really messed up big time.”) Schedule pleasant, distracting activities that will shift your mood - an exciting sports event, a funny movie, an uplifting book. If you don’t exercise regularly, start now. Depression is a low-arousal state, and aerobic exercise pitches the body into a high-arousal state. Create a small triumph or easy success for yourself: Tackle some long-delayed chore around the house. Take a different perspective. For instance, if you’ve just broken up with a lover, wallowing in self-pitying thoughts such as “I’ll always be alone” will thicken your despair. Instead, think about the ways the relationship wasn’t so great, the ways you and your ex were mismatched. Seeing the loss differently, in a more positive light, is an antidote to sadness. Help somebody else in need. Volunteer for something. Source: “Emotional Intelligence,” by Daniel Goleman. Orlando Sentinel

2. Cooling your anger Become aware of cynical or hostile thoughts as they arise and short-circuit them by substituting reasonable thoughts. For instance, if the elevator is delayed, search for a benign reason - a mechanical glitch? - instead of working up a rage against some imaginary thoughtless lug as the culprit. Monitor the physical sensations that accompany your anger - such as tensed muscles - and use them as your cue to stop and consider your next response rather than striking out impulsively. Get away by yourself for a while - go for a long walk or do some exercise. High levels of physiological activation cause the body to rebound to a low level of arousal. Practice relaxation methods such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation. Seek distraction from your angry thoughts: Watch TV, see a movie, read a book. Avoid activities such as shopping or eating because they allow you to continue your angry thoughts. Avoid venting your anger on the person who provoked it. That “catharsis” will only leave you even angrier. Instead, cool down. Then, in a constructive but assertive manner, confront the person and settle the dispute. Source: “Emotional Intelligence,” by Daniel Goleman. Orlando Sentinel

2 Sidebars appeared with story: 1. Coping with melancholy Stop ruminating. Dwelling on what’s making you sad only intensifies the emotion. Instead, challenge the thoughts at the center of your ruminating: How realistic are they? What can be gained by focusing on them at this point in your life? Replace them with positive thoughts and images. (“I did the best I could under the circumstances” instead of “I really messed up big time.”) Schedule pleasant, distracting activities that will shift your mood - an exciting sports event, a funny movie, an uplifting book. If you don’t exercise regularly, start now. Depression is a low-arousal state, and aerobic exercise pitches the body into a high-arousal state. Create a small triumph or easy success for yourself: Tackle some long-delayed chore around the house. Take a different perspective. For instance, if you’ve just broken up with a lover, wallowing in self-pitying thoughts such as “I’ll always be alone” will thicken your despair. Instead, think about the ways the relationship wasn’t so great, the ways you and your ex were mismatched. Seeing the loss differently, in a more positive light, is an antidote to sadness. Help somebody else in need. Volunteer for something. Source: “Emotional Intelligence,” by Daniel Goleman. Orlando Sentinel

2. Cooling your anger Become aware of cynical or hostile thoughts as they arise and short-circuit them by substituting reasonable thoughts. For instance, if the elevator is delayed, search for a benign reason - a mechanical glitch? - instead of working up a rage against some imaginary thoughtless lug as the culprit. Monitor the physical sensations that accompany your anger - such as tensed muscles - and use them as your cue to stop and consider your next response rather than striking out impulsively. Get away by yourself for a while - go for a long walk or do some exercise. High levels of physiological activation cause the body to rebound to a low level of arousal. Practice relaxation methods such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation. Seek distraction from your angry thoughts: Watch TV, see a movie, read a book. Avoid activities such as shopping or eating because they allow you to continue your angry thoughts. Avoid venting your anger on the person who provoked it. That “catharsis” will only leave you even angrier. Instead, cool down. Then, in a constructive but assertive manner, confront the person and settle the dispute. Source: “Emotional Intelligence,” by Daniel Goleman. Orlando Sentinel

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