People today have a bizarre relationship with their feelings. On the one hand we are incredibly worried about them – more so than we ought to be. Many people are willing to shut off reason and logic the moment they are “offended” or suspect that someone else might be. They use their feelings as a cudgel to shut down the speech and freedoms of others. Many people seem to want to be wrpped in muslin and protected from hardship at any cost.
And yet many people – often the same people – are utterly tone-deaf when it comes to understanding the feelings and motivations of others. The only feelings they really care about are their own. They are quick to assume anyone who feels or thinks differently is monstrous, and that every problem we experience is evidence of a malicious world.
Feelings are important, but it is more important to keep them in perspective.
Facts are more important with feelings if you want to engage with the world and be successful. A person who is able to see past his feelings, especilly his need to be right and his deep emotional attachment to his ideas about how the world works, is going to be more successful and healthier than someone who covers his ears and screams when things aren’t working out for him or doesn’t conform to his beliefs.
One of the most powerful things that a person can do is learn to swallow their pride and disappointment, accept reality, and adjust their behaviour.
In order to be able to do that, a person must actually be more- not less- attuned to their feelings. They have to know when they are angry, irritable, agitated, and defensive, and be able to honestly ask themselves why… and then honestly assess whether those feelings are more about them than the people around them.
Honest self-reflection is one of the most powerful tools a human being can have in their personal toolbox.
Another one is empathy.
Being able to persuade people of your positions, being able to understand another human being’s drives, being able to figure out how to create win-win propositions, and being able to understand when to push someone and when to offer them sympathy, and how to motivate someone are the skills that are rooted in empathy.
Empathy itself is a three-part skill. First it is the knack of putting aside how you feel about someone so that you re not projecting bad intentions on them. Then it requires becoming very curious about how they are feeling and looking for cues in their words, action, body language, and affect to develop a real educated guess. Finally it requires asking yourself how the feelings you have detected demands you change your behaviour to get along with that person (and whether it is important that you do so.)
To get the most out of both self-reflection and empathy helps to understand some basic, but unopular truths about human nature:
● Human beings project – we tend to assume feelings and motives on other people that validate our feelings. (For example: if we feel defensive, we assume the other person is feeling hostile.)
● Human beings rationalize – we will tell ourselves incredibly complex lies and rewrite history in order to tell a story in which we are the good guy.
● Human beings distort – when we feel strong feelings we will blind ourselves to the facts in order to make the world suit our feelings.
● Human beings externalize – we blame things outside ourselves for problems that are totally our fault.
● Human beings self-sabotage – we often do things that make us miserable and unhappy just to feel special and unique – or to escape hard work.
Learning to expect these things both from others and from ourselves and to adjust accordingly is hard work. It requires a pretty large skill-set unto itself. One that very few people fully develop. In fact, most people don’t even want to acknowledge these human tendancies, because we do them so much, ourselves and hate to face up.
People who have these skills nd understanding are said to have Emotional Intelligence, sometimes called having a high “EQ”. And a combination of a high IQ and a high EQ are some of the most effective predictors of success and happiness in adults.
As a parent our biggest priority is going to be to give our child every possible advantage as adults; helping our children develop a strong Emotional Intelligence is one of the best things that we can do to make that happen.
Here are just a few of the many ways we can accomplish it:
● Develop the habit of strong and honest self-reflection, so that we can model it.
● Teach our children how to identify feelings and put names to them until they become skilled at naming other people’s feelings from body language an expression. Use time watching video and reading books as a chance to coach empathy.
● Learn the toolkit of Assertiveness, such as “I statements” and effective ways to ask for what we want. Teach our kids to use them from the very beginning.
● Give children opportuities to resolve their own social conflicts, and then give them feedback after they have tried their best, and have ended the interations.
● Nurture your childrens’ friendships and hobbies. That means taking an interest and participating with them once in awhile if you can.
● Avoid using corporal punishment or consequences other than the ones that naturally come out of a behaviour to deal with bad behaviour.
● Be honest when you are frustrated and disapponted, but draw the line at guilt-tripping.
● Give kids unstructured playtime with minimal supervision.
● Whenever possible point out how you feel one way, but act another because it is the smarter, wiser, or morally right thing to do.
These can be hard to introduce at first, especially when it comes to finding more positive ways of helping chilren learn discipline, but the results in terms of highter intelligence, better social success, and better career success later in life, the payoffs are incalcuable.