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Learning Emotional Intelligence

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Emotional intelligence is an area that everyone is talking about these days. Kids need “social and emotional learning” in schools so they can thrive in real life. I’ve been mostly staying home lately, but I’ll share one event that occurred in the last two weeks to which I believe I had to use emotional intelligence.

Our family was having a pleasant dinner out, which we don’t do very often, to celebrate my son’s 16th birthday. While focusing on the food and fun, my 85-year-old mother started talking about how she couldn’t hear the ring-tone on her new flip phone. Reluctantly, we all glanced at the phone and then said we had no idea why she couldn’t hear the tone. But she kept bringing it up, saying she’d have to get a new phone, new service, anything to solve the problem. She’s 85, after all, and living alone.

This is when I realized that we were not going to be able to enjoy our dinner until we came up with a plan on how to solve this problem. Since my mother lives alone, her cell phone is her only connection to the outside world. Looking intensely at the phone, I concluded that it must be defective since we had all checked the volume and settings. I told her that the next day we would go to Walmart and get her a new phone.

But an amazing thing happened at this point. What I had just said about the phone being defective made my 13-year-old daughter remember she had once had a clog in the speaker of her phone. She looked at the speaker and determined that my mother had put a piece of tape over it with her name on it for identification. Once we removed the tape, the ring tone was fine.

How does this all apply to emotional intelligence? I believe, it is acknowledging that sometimes unpleasant situations occur in life to which we don’t want to deal. However, if we don’t deal with the problem, we cannot move on. Denial of the problem won’t help, and tempers can certainly arise at this point. Emotional intelligence is a difficult skill to master, especially in a working situation.

Having the emotional intelligence to resolve problems successfully in daily life is very much a needed skill in today’s complex world. But, how can you learn these skills? Computer programs and games that emphasize real-life events can meet this need. There are games that require people to make moral and ethical decisions, like the game Civilization, where people must decide how best to meet the needs of the most people, while de-emphasizing harm.

Another way to learn emotional intelligence is to facilitate the “participatory culture,” by having students explain through writing or media how they would solve problems in daily life. The important point here is that to teach emotional intelligence requires students to be directly involved with solving difficult problems. It is only then that they can reflect on their responses, while also keeping their emotions in check. Like any other skill, emotional intelligence can be learned through practice. By allowing students, especially in the older grades, to be exposed to real-life conflicts through computer games or simulations or through a participatory culture, it can allow them to practice this needed skill.

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