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|Emotional Intelligence Needs a Moral Rudder
||More and more schools are teaching students how to manage their emotions, in hopes that these skills will improve students’ behavior and relationships with peers and teachers. There is also evidence to suggest that emotional intelligence—or EI— is linked to academic success.
While it would be such a relief for schools if helping students become “good” was as simple as teaching them emotional skills, a recent study suggests that there’s a lot more to acting morally than knowing how to manage your emotions.
In this particular study, researchers in the UK found that young adult women who ranked high in EI also rated higher in delinquent behavior. While the authors of the study were not definitive about why this surprising finding might have occurred, the study does serve as a wake-up call to those of us who teach emotional skills. It seems that EI without a moral foundation can be down-right scary.
How do we teach kids to be good?
This is not an easy question to answer and it’s one that religious leaders, philosophers, researchers, and educators—not to mention parents—have struggled with for a long time. For many years, scientists such as Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg promoted the idea that moral development was solely a cognitive task. In other words, a student’s moral judgment could be improved by engaging in activities like ethical dilemma discussions.
But as science began to embrace the important role emotions play in our life, researchers suggested that our emotional intuitions and actions regulate our ethical behavior more than our cognitions. Therefore, went the argument, our emphasis should be on helping students cultivate a healthy emotional life.
So which should teachers and parents focus on for a child’s moral development? Reasoning or emotional skills? As is so often the case in research, it turns out to be both, particularly as neuroscientists have found that the moral development of children involves both emotional and cognitive brain mechanisms.
For example, one study found that young children, in comparison to adults, have stronger activations in regions of the brain associated with emotion when exposed to moral situations, meaning they experience more personal distress. Teaching them to calm their emotions by developing cognitive skills, such as re-framing a situation, will help them make better decisions when faced with a moral dilemma.
Safety ethic vs. prosocial ethic
But we still have to go a step further because we can’t assume that a child (or adult for that matter) will make the correct moral choice once his or her emotions are calmed. This is where the importance of moral discussion comes in.
In her new book, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality, moral development expert Darcia Narvaez argues that if a person did not grow up in a safe and nurturing environment—developing an insecure rather than secure attachment—then he or she is more likely to view the world as an unsafe place. Insecurely attached people are more likely to adopt a “safety ethic”—a moral mindset in which the need for self-protection overrides prosocial behaviors and emotions.
Someone who operates from a safety ethic may become defensive and belligerent in difficult situations or try to dominate others through humiliation or shame. Or he or she may go in the opposite direction and act submissively or passively towards others as a way of self-preservation.
Who’s to say that the young women in the aforementioned study, the ones who ranked high in both EI and delinquent behavior, weren’t operating out of a safety ethic? Given the high rates of anxiety and depression amongst children and adults in our culture, I would venture that many of us do so, more often than we’d like to admit.
Narvaez suggests that people in a chronic safety mode need help cultivating both emotional and reasoning skills. They need to learn to calm their emotions, but they also need a supportive mentor or group who can help them shift their self-protective beliefs into more trusting and prosocial ones.
Teaching emotional intelligence within a moral framework
So what does this mean for educators?
As I often say, we need to start with ourselves by becoming aware of when our behavior might be stemming from a “safety” rather than “prosocial” ethic. For example, when I find myself feeling less than compassionate, I analyze my thoughts and emotions to see why and sometimes talk it out with a trusted friend. Am I in a rush? Do I feel the person deserved the suffering? Am I overwhelmed by my own emotional response to the situation? Do I feel more powerful than the person needing help? Do I not feel safe? Once I figure out why, then I make the necessary inner and/or outer changes—sometimes easy to do, and sometimes not so easy.
For teachers who want to help students cultivate a moral and emotionally intelligent mindset, here are two strategies that complement the teaching of emotional skills:
1. Teach performance and moral character. Many schools are hopping on the bandwagon to teach “performance character”—qualities such as perseverance, optimism, and creativity—because it has been shown to lead to greater academic success. Fewer, though, are also teaching moral character, which focuses on qualities that enhance ethical behavior, including empathy, social responsibility, and integrity.
The challenge is that performance character by itself is not necessarily good or bad. A person can exhibit great perseverance and creativity, but use it towards bad means—take your pick of corporate scandals to see this in action. To blunt ends-justify-means thinking, schools need to balance achievement-oriented performance character with the ethical orientation of moral character, while also teaching emotional skills.
Case in point: A recent study found that students at a middle school that emphasized moral character demonstrated higher rates of academic integrity than students at two middle schools that taught only performance character. In other words, the students who cultivated their moral backbone were less likely to cheat than the students who developed perseverance.
This is no small finding, given the prevalence of cheating amongst students these days, especially when research has found that students who cheated in high school were more likely to be dishonest in their professional and personal lives as adults.
2. Discuss ethical situations with students. The school that emphasized moral character in the above study cultivated integrity and other moral qualities in their students through a process of reading and discussion. They set aside time each week for faculty or staff members to meet with small groups of students, no more than 10 to 12. During each meeting, students read great moralists such as Gandhi, Aristotle, and W. E. B. Du Bois, and discussed moral strengths such as compassion and integrity and how these strengths applied to their own lives.
For schools or teachers unable to set aside dedicated time to ethical discussion, integrating these dilemmas directly into the curriculum might be the easiest way. One of my favorite examples comes from Marty Rubio, Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School Social Studies Chair, who, with his colleagues, re-writes test questions to help develop students’ “ethical fitness” and to bring more meaning into their learning. Here are some examples:
For 9th graders.
Before: Compare and contrast the daily living conditions of women in Sparta and Athens.
After: If forced to choose one or the other, where would you live out your life, Sparta or Athens? What does your choice reveal about what you value most?
For 11th graders.
Before: Describe the gap between ideals of the American Revolution and the reality of life for women, African Americans, Native Americans, and poor whites.
After: How do you judge American society of the early 1800s given the various ways it failed to live up to the ideals of the American Revolution?
For 12th graders.
Before: Outline major changes in campaign finance law in the last forty years. How have they affected the distribution of power in our political system?
After: Do recent changes in campaign finance law advance or undermine the core values of a democratic society we have discussed this semester?
In a society that is rife with corporate corruption, school cheating scandals, racial divisiveness, and greed, it is imperative that educators help students cultivate a strong ethical foundation—along with the social and emotional skills needed to act upon that foundation.
We need look no further than child psychologist and Holocaust survivor Haim Ginott’s letter to a high school teacher as a real-life cautionary tale from recent history where educated people without moral grounding went awry (from history curriculum Facing History and Ourselves):
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should
Gas chambers built by learned engineers.
Children poisoned by educated physicians.
Infants killed by trained nurses.
Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So, I am suspicious of education.
My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.
Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children
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|My Struggles with Evil
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|Day 22: Releasing Existential Sadness
This series supports the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference I’m hosting from February 23 – 27, 2015. Please get your free ticket to the conference now by visiting https://www.entheos.com/The-Future-of-Mental-Health/Eric-Maisel. And plan to attend!
Each day in this series of 30 days to better mental health I want to propose one simple idea and one simple strategy in support of that idea. If you’d like to view other posts in this series, please visit here:
You might like to ask a friend to join you for these 30 days. The two of you can chat about the ideas I’m presenting and support each other in your efforts to try out some new strategies. You might even want to get a whole group involved!
Today we look at the following.
Chronic sadness is one of our most significant emotional challenges. We get sad in part because we have consciousness of many things, including our own sadness. We have consciousness of pain, our pain and the pain of others. We have consciousness of the fragility of life. We have consciousness of evil, consciousness of the unfair distribution of wealth, consciousness of the misery people make for each other.
The amount of consciousness that we possess is a defining feature of our species. Other species are no doubt aware of many things, including the loss of loved ones and imminent death; we are aware of a million things, from the extra weight we’re carrying to the inexorable crawl of time.
Some of the things that we are aware of make us happy. But many make us sad. We try to stifle a lot of that awareness by defending ourselves with all sorts of tricky human tactics, from denying that we just downed that whole bottle of Scotch to asserting that all those childhood beatings were good for us.
If our consciousness of many things defines our species, a second defining attribute is our defensiveness in the face of all that awareness. We just can’t seem to tolerate looking that much truth in the eye. It is simply too much to bear—or so it feels. Worse, our brain creates “default” neuronal paths to deal with all that consciousness, providing us with simple ways to avoid the truth. Our trickiness becomes wired into our system.
A third defining feature of our species is the complexity of our wants. We want many simple things, like carrots and potatoes; and we also want far more complicated things, like happiness and success for our children; and equally complicated things like “manifesting our potential” and “taking pride in our actions.” We want sex (but we can’t just take it); we want good health (but it is so easy to get addicted); we want inner peace (but our mind is roiling and the world seems to be built for chaos).
It would be pretty to think that we are simple creatures—but we really aren’t. We have many complex wants and also many conflicting wants and the way we hold all that complexity and conflict can quite befuddle us, making us wonder why we did that odd thing and that even odder thing.
These are existential matters about who we are as a species, about what we want, about how we operate, and about how we live and how we die. In this sense much of our sadness is existential in nature, having to do with our built-in awareness, our attempts to be less aware, and the complicated nature of our wants.
Every day we are making subtle existential calculations regarding how our life is going—and, very often, about how our life is falling short. We start with a core personality—we are already very much ourselves at birth, already a unique exemplar of the species—and then we accrete a lifetime of calculations about how we are faring and how life is treating us. Very often the results of those calculations are a negative number and sadness.
Therefore the powerful first step in reducing your experience of sadness is making explicit the relationship you intend to have with life. Do you want to think thoughts that don’t serve you in order to preserve your illusions or do you want to think thoughts that support your intentions? Do you want to experience life as if you were a puppet on a cosmic string, being driven by unseen forces to hold meaningless jobs and to renounce what you love in favor of rat race dynamics, or do you want to manifest your values and principles in the service of the most self-directing, instrumental life you can construct?
How do you want to deal with life? The instant you decide to deal with life a certain way, as the hero of your own story, and reframe the facts of existence as a supreme challenge but not as a life sentence, you release a significant portion of your sadness and “depression.” How you face life determines how sad you will feel, which makes existential self-help a top priority.
Existential self-help consists of grounding yourself in a pair of realities, that life is exactly as it is and that you are obliged to keep your head up and make yourself proud. Many people make the mistake of supposing that if they don’t look life squarely in the eye they can avoid noticing what is making them unhappy. Instead of this dodge proving successful, they simply increase their unhappiness.
By accepting the realities of life, by announcing that you intend to direct life as best you can, and by asserting that what matters to you is what you decide matters to you, you stand up straighter—and that gesture opens the window for sadness to leave.
Today, try the following simple thing. Open the window and let a little of your chronic sadness about the nature of existence escape right out. If possible, let a lot out!
Today’s goal: To begin to practice existential self-help.
Today’s key principle: Much of our sadness is existential in nature, having to do with our consciousness of the facts of existence, including how hard life can be, and the reality of our mortality.
Today’s key strategy: Opening the window and letting some chronic existential sadness escape.
Good luck today!
Dr. Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books including Life Purpose Boot Camp, Rethinking Depression, and Coaching the Artist Within. In 2015 he will be launching a Future of Mental Health initiative. You can learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, trainings, and workshops at http://ericmaisel.com. Contact Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to attend the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference in February: https://www.entheos.com/The-Future-of-Mental-Health/Eric-Maisel
Day 22 of 30 days to better mental health
Blog to Post to:
Try reducing your existential sadness in the following simple way.
Mature Audiences Only:
Ethics and Morality
Race and Ethnicity
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|The Psychology of the Selfie
It is clearly not only egocentric and emotionally unregulated adolescents who obsess over photographs of themselves. Politicians and business tycoons seem just as concerned about their photographic images, driven by a heady mixture of subclinical narcissism and avaricious PR consultants. Maybe pictures do paint a thousand words.
Selfies have become popular because taking them is easy, cheap, and fun. All events can easily be recorded and loaded on the web as evidence of your social life. There is a big difference between you taking a picture of yourself and others taking a picture of you: with or without your permission. But taking a selfie in the "heat-of-the-moment" and posting it on the web is maybe a really bad idea.
The ‘selfie story’ at Nelson Mandela’s funeral is a good example. There, we saw bored world leaders amusing themselves with the taking of photographs—mainly of their own visages—on their mobile phones. These are the same leaders who know the power of the photograph to enhance and wreck careers.
They know about ‘paparazzi-power’; of being caught behaving in a way ‘not becoming’ to their real selves. Some have small armies of people designed to prevent others taking photographs, while equally being very sympathetic to the chosen few, whose work is then usually ‘approved’ by the appropriate committee.
One study entitled “It is all about me” (Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol 52), concerned with narcissism among CEOs, investigated the number and size of CEO photos in the annual report. This was an unobtrusive measure of the bold, exhibitionistic traits that serve CEOs so well. And yes, the more narcissistic they were, the more the photos, which were also bigger and more complementary.
Things to consider when posing for a business, formal or "serious" photograph.
1. What to wear?: Perhaps we get a hint from our politicians. A blue or black suits, unpatterned tie, white shirt. The tie can sometimes be used to leak party allegiance. No allegiance to school, university or regiment: no patterns. The same applies to cuff links: understated, not too shiny, quietly ‘tasteful’.
Never anything else but a (startling) white shirt, perhaps (sometimes hopelessly) trying to be associated with purity, virtue and cleanliness.
Americans have introduced the (very tiny) lapel badge which is not always clearly visible. Usually the national flag; sometimes a campaign logo. Never anything else, such as a Rotarian badge, or something from one’s regiment.
Women can choose something a little more individualistic. Again, the bling should be minimal, the hair perfect. They have to pay particular attention to trivial things such as shoes, which seem of particular interest to some journalists.
2. Face Furniture: It seems that around 80% of adults require some ‘vision correction’: namely needing glasses or contacts, because they are near or far-sighted. But whether to wear them in the photograph? The answer seems to be “no” if you look at most PR images.
One celebrated classic study in social psychology by Oxford University based psychologists showed that people were rated as more intelligent if they wore glasses, but that the effect disappeared as soon as they spoke.
There are many “off-the-record” shots of politicians, TV journalists and film stars wearing glasses fleetingly, usually to read something. They seem to want to discard them as quickly as possible, despite the considerable effort and cost of choosing and purchasing them.
But why? The answer must be simply ageing and fitness. Face-furniture is for old(er) people. To present a picture of health and youth, wear contacts or see the world as a fuzzy mist.
3. To smile or not to smile?: What about facial expression? From a very early age, most of us have experienced the “say cheese” instruction and urged always to smile for photographs. It shows we are happy. Happy is good: but not smug, nor gormless, nor sarcastic.
Yet this seems to be a recent ‘invention’. Look at old family photographs: very sombre expressions for the most part. Maybe it is about dentistry and not having work done. Again, another sign of health and age.
One remarkable study looked at the high school photographs of many pupils and their subsequent history (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 80). It evaluated the intensity of smiling in an American women’s yearbook at a posh (elite) institution. Follow up research showed the intense smilers were more likely to be married at 27, and to have a more satisfying marriage. Another study (Motivation and Emotion, Vol 29) showed that divorce rates could be accurately predicted from the degree to which people smiled in their school photographs
The psychology goes: smiling behaviour in photographs is indicative of underlying emotional dispositions that have direct and indirect life consequences.
4. Background: To what extent does the background enhance the sitter? The gravitas of the board room; the serious, academic feel of the bookshelf; the logo on the podium? Never the holiday beach, the poolside lounger.
Certainly, the setting can be used to convey a message. But is that too obvious, too vulgar and too restricting? Perhaps you can have a series of backgrounds for different purposes and the carefully crafted photo placed in it accordingly.
So, go back to your Facebook or press-release picturess: time for a re-think.
What factors should you consider when taking a serious photograph?
Blog to Post to:
A Sideways View
What factors should you take into consideration when posting a selfie on the web? What do photographs say about you?
Mature Audiences Only:
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