Empathic Intelligence In Practice

Politics, Emotions and Intelligence

This afternoon, I was consoling my son who was crying after getting a jab in the eye, when I heard another parent say to their son, “there will be no crying on the playground today!”

Years ago, as a freshly minted teenager in 1984, I remember the criticism voiced around dining room tables when Geraldine Ferraro was chosen as the Vice Presidential candidate by Walter Mondale: as a woman she was too emotional and unable to make the kind of reasoned decisions a man can.

And here we are today, with Donald Trump as the leader in the Republican primaries, where many voice concerns like this one from the National Review: “Now is not the time to be voting for president based on emotion.

I have always been suspicious about the call for “reason” vs “emotion.” My suspicion lies in the fact “reason” seems to have more with a person’s ability to express their biases while remaining calm than it does with reason of the intellect or the heart. In this distortion, emotions are viewed as a problem to shut down, without stopping to inquire into the deeper stirrings that produced the emotion.

On the playground, for instance, not crying does not eliminate the actual cause of the tears: the physical pain and the lack of safety my son experienced in that moment. Instead, “no crying!” means the cutting off of connection with those vulnerable feelings. And this interruption and separation of your “reasonable”/unemotional self from the vulnerable/emotional self is where the trouble begins.

Peter Levine’s ground-breaking work studying how animals respond to threat – with a quick “emotional” release: a squawking and flapping of wings, for example – has been instrumental in helping understand what happens to humans when we interrupt this release: trauma.

A discussion of how this is connected to the suppression of the feminine in general, and women in particular, is beyond the scope of this post. However, being emotional and unreasonable has long been the criticism of the feminine, and Geraldine Ferraro was just one example of this.

The solution is to focus less on emotions and more on emotional intelligence. My son’s tears were about pain, safety and vulnerability. What he needed was someone simply to support him while he released the stress build up from his experience. As an adult, when difficult emotions arise, I hope that he will learn to greet them with compassion and openness, that he may learn to understand what lies beneath them.

When it comes to Trump voters, the emotions are just the surface of something greater: fear, insecurity, lack of control. But our ability to be with these emotions got shut down very early – on the playground. My reasoned argument is that the separation from our emotional intelligence has led to the sea of stunted emotions that are buoying the Trump campaign.

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