Modern life has always had the ability to bring out the emotional side of each of us, and never more so than now, with its uncertainties and the ever-changing scenarios, and anxieties prevalent at this time. We have all been in situations where our emotions have got the better of us and led us to do things that weren’t, how shall we put it, ‘in our best interests’. We have all, I am sure, said or written something (the indignant, hastily composed email comes to mind) or done something that wasn’t, in the end, that helpful. Sometimes our emotions get the better of us. An important part of how we process emotions resides in a part of the brain called the amygdala and so, when we are taken over by our emotions and literally ‘act before thinking’, we are experiencing, what has been termed ‘emotional hijacking’. This phrase has been used by an American researcher and psychologist, Daniel Goleman who in his book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ reported his research findings that ‘emotional intelligence’ (which he termed EQ, which stands for ‘emotional quotient’) is more of a factor in later success than ‘intelligence’, or IQ (‘intelligence quotient’). His famous phrase that EQ matters more than IQ is an important finding. We all know people who have been successful because they are able to get on with others, they are able to relate, to listen, to empathise. We also know that these people are often happier and more content with their lives. Never more so than now do we need to have resilience, tolerance, empathy and kindness.
It is not easy to cultivate these virtues in the young of today, buffeted, as they are, by social media trolls, media negativity and changing landscapes in which the old certainties are, for certain, left behind. So, how can we help them? One way, of course is to be the example. I think President Obama said once in a speech of his, ‘Be the difference you want to see’, which is a nice way of putting it. Also, schools and educational programmes, socialising and being part of social activities clearly helps. So, it turns out, does reading.
Neil Gaiman (English author) said this of reading; ‘Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of others, gives us the gifts of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over’. Research has shown that frequent and regular reading of fiction can help to develop important EQ skills, especially empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another- a very important part of the EQ toolbox (and some would say a key litmus test of it) if we don’t understand the feelings of another, how can we possibly be able to communicate with them. How can we relate? How can we understand their point of view and use it constructively? Reading helps by giving readers insights into thought processes, through patterns, reasons, motives, behaviours, actions and consequences and as such is a vital educative tool. And the relevance of it applies to all ages, however for those still at school here is how we can use fiction with our children:
- Insist on daily reading
- Read to your child
- Model the reading habit
- Insist that children choose books they love and characters they respond to
- Discuss how and why characters behave in certain ways
- Discuss and talk about dilemmas
- Join/create book circle
- To discuss and broaden of emotional vocabulary
A great source of ideas and inspiration is www.empathylab.uk – have a look for some great ideas!
In the last ‘Learning Matters’ article for Littleport Life I wrote about how we can use reading to ‘grow a brain’. In this article I am arguing that we should embrace reading as a way of developing our emotional skills, in effect we can help reading to help us to ‘nourish our hearts’.
Hearts and minds…in this ever-changing world, and especially during these times of increased social restrictions, isn’t there something reassuring about knowing that sometimes, the old technology is the best and that reading really does have it all!