Real Leaders

How to Reverse the Degradation of Emotional Intelligence in America

Everywhere we look, we find evidence that our country is becoming less emotionally intelligent. Log onto any social media site or watch the news to witness this degradation.

The attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, as well as the yearlong unrest by Black Lives Matter and Antifa, are prime demonstrations of how far our country has fallen, how people are giving in to their impulses, and how emotions are allowed to run our lives as if we were children. Emotions have overtaken common decency, common sense, and personal values.  

First, let’s define emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence encompasses two key aspects: the emotional intelligence we have over ourselves and others. We must be aware of our own emotional state. We must recognize and categorize the emotions we feel, including the ability to manage our own emotions. This means being accountable for our actions at all times, including emotionally charged actions, and controlling our impulses.  

Our emotional intelligence also applies to how we respond to others and society. Those who are emotionally intelligent in this regard can easily read the emotions of others and pick up on social and emotional cues. This includes the ability to understand what others need when they’re feeling emotional. This ties together with empathy, which is the ability to connect with and understand others’ emotional states and then communicate or demonstrate that understanding. This aspect of emotional intelligence enables us to recognize when emotions are at play, categorize those emotions, and work to alleviate them if they’re negative.  

Yet, today emotions are often left unchecked and allowed to run rampant —online, in our nation’s Capitol, and any number of face-to-face encounters.   

The source of this degradation is hard to pinpoint but is likely a result of several factors — one of the most prominent being the introduction of social media into our daily lives. Additionally, the partisan-oriented news media uses emotion against us to stoke our outrage around politics, race, the pandemic response, or other controversial issues.  

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be emotionally intelligent while still coexisting with social media or the news. Quite the contrary. Despite all of these factors undermining our emotional intelligence, we can help each other better interpret our emotional impulses and express them appropriately. 

So, how do we reverse this degradation of emotional intelligence in our country? How do we become more aware of and in control of our emotions as individuals? Consider these approaches: 

1. Conduct research on a topic before chiming in. Before formulating a response or opinion, it’s prudent to look further into a matter. Without information, we’re more likely to respond in emotional ways that don’t lend themselves to positive or constructive discussion. Make it a habit to research at least three credible opinions, both partisan and, if possible, objective views. Stop relying on third parties to fact-check for you; if an issue makes you emotional, it deserves your attention. 

No matter our stance on any issue, reading the opposing stance can be difficult to swallow or even comprehend. It may be an affront to our personal beliefs and values and can be emotionally challenging. This is where building emotional intelligence comes in. We can recognize the emotion and categorize it. By forcing ourselves to learn how others perceive an issue, we better understand how others’ emotions are triggered. We may not come away agreeing with others’ views, but we’ll know that much more about the diverse viewpoints in the world. 

2. Practice facing fears and emotionally charged situations. In psychology, a strategy called “exposure therapy” involves exposing oneself to fears or dislikes in small increments to become less adverse towards them. Our desire to surround ourselves with ideas that solely feed our confirmation bias — or information that supports our own beliefs — only polarizes us further. Exposing ourselves to opposing opinions may be the best way we have for turning our country around. At any rate, America offers all sorts of opportunities for exposure therapy!   

We need to start talking about this aversion towards understanding and acknowledging that which opposes us, and that begins with employing emotional intelligence. We need to call it out and start working to influence people to question themselves and others, to fact-check and learn, and to recognize that we’re all human beings deserving of respect for our opinions.  

Emotions are always going to play a role in our values and opinions; that’s life. We don’t need to abolish emotions; we all need to become emotionally intelligent. 

3. Avoid an emotional domino effect. In our pursuit to become more emotionally intelligent, we need to hold others accountable — especially those that try to wield emotions against us in support of their agendas. Unfortunately, facts are being replaced by emotion, creating a perpetual tumble of emotional reaction from person to person reading or listening to this “news” or political rhetoric. As part of our emotional intelligence, we must recognize that other people are feeling emotions, and we must distinguish our own emotional reactions from that person’s emotions. 

There is, or should be, room for all our opinions to have a chance to be heard and discussed. By exposing ourselves to new ideas and diversifying our thought pool — as well as studying the evidence on all sides of the issue — we not only solidify our own opinions and values but may even replace them with something new.   

We need to challenge ourselves to take charge of our emotions. We’re becoming intellectually lazy and allowing our emotions to control our thoughts, plunging us further and further into primitive times where we used violence as a means of expressing emotion instead of words. By working to become more emotionally intelligent, we may find that our influence and the influence of others become more positive. Emotional intelligence will allow us to discuss deeper issues facing our country, including poverty and race. As a more emotionally intelligent nation, we may begin to work together with respect, even through disagreement, to resolve the challenges we face as a nation and human race. 

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