Review of "Emotional Intelligence"

The research in Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence brought together the current body of scientific literature to derive a holistic picture of how modern science explains the manner in which biochemical interactions in the brain and body effect and are effected by our daily existence. Recognizing that it is impossible for sheer rationality to guide our daily lives as the emotional system flavors every aspect of our existence – Goleman provides a model for understanding how it is that the emotions work, gives numerous examples of their potential to help or harm in specific situations and offers a series of guidelines which, if applied by the conscientious reader or the school teacher, can greatly increase the quality of one’s life.

In the opening chapter we learn the components and order of the neurochemical phenomenology of brain functions. The instinctual, associative area of the brain is the first to receive the neurotransmitter sent from the sense organs while the neocortex, the emotional center, is the second site that receives it and is the one that is able to bring to bear whatever rational responses one has developed over time to the stimulus. One of the popular conceptions of this divide of potential reactive outcomes is “nature vs. nurture”, though a better manner for describing it would be genetic inheritance versus cognitive development.

Emotional intelligence includes empathy, self-control, persistence, the ability to motivate oneself, zeal and the proper mobilization of interpersonal skills. It’s by analyzing these traits that it becomes possible to see that the traditional markers of intelligence may make one an ideal candidate for a position as a lecturing professor however the lack of emotional intelligence trait means that one will be poorly suited to manage their relations and selves in periods of crises imagined or real. Goleman is not an essentialist his valuation of all emotions. Sometimes “positive” qualities, due to the vicissitudes of circumstance can a normally positive emotion for successful activity a maladaption the face of reality. Not all emotions however are capable of being beneficial to the experience given the right context. Worrying, for instance, is not a manner for dealing with potential problems but a form of paralysis as new solutions to issues doesn’t come from worrying nor does it affect the feared outcome.

Bringing this emotional intelligence to our awareness alters the manner in which us as the observer assesses the situation and can thus lead to an increased number of potential responses to it based upon which outcomes are considered to be most appropriate, desirable, etc. Those with interpersonal, emotional intelligences are better able to organize and co-ordinate groups, negotiate solutions to issues that flare up, make personal connections and have insight into others feelings, concerns and motives. Goleman moves from these observation to a series of anecdotes where people aren’t able to gain control of emotions that are “affecting them” like as if they were foreign spirits inhabiting their bodies rather than “being affected” by people in a particularly trying set of circumstances. The results of those that can’t control them are the opposite of the self-mastery, both as in such circumstance the individual is not controlling the self and as such abdication of agency typically leads to negative outcomes – be it depression, anxiety, etc. Such emotions can be specific and feel as if they are “flooding” in at times or can be generalized. These temperaments, however, are not destiny and can be changed by various practices.

In contradistinction to this flooding of emotions deleterious to human happiness is the possibility of reaching a state of “flow”. In Goleman’s terms this is “…a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture. Because flow feels so good, it it intrinsically rewarding. It is a state in which people become interlay absorbed in what they are doing, paying undivided attention to the task, their awareness merged with their actions” (91). To describe the process on more poetic terms, specifically that of Yeats, we could say that flow is when “the dancer becomes the dance” and is an ideal manner of existence that is described in various contemplative religious traditions.

Following these wide strokes on the impact of the emotions of one’s romantic and work life, Goleman delves into the social and physical aspects of emotions. Interpersonally the arts of emotional intelligence apply to the manner in which people display their emotions – where they minimize shows of emotion, exaggerate it or substitute. Emotions are transmittable and indeed those which we describe are charismatic are those that can elicit in others their attitudes. Indeed, emotions also have a significant impact on human health with those that are positive having a not just having a happier but healthier existence.

A final note worth mentioning is the author’s multiple positive references to Aristotle, specifically Nicomachean Ethics, which two-thousand plus years ago came to many of the same conclusions as Goleman. I mention this both for it’s general noteworthiness, and as a part of my FICAM training I’m returning to much of my previous philosophical training as a means of supplementing it by bringing problematics which which I think are worth tarrying. Put briefly, I specifically plan to bring together the FICAM reading with modern developmentalist perspectives in the Hegelian vein, such as Gillian Rose’s social model and Catherine Malabou’s individualistic approach and her concern with various form of brain plasticity (developmental, modulational and reparative). This will be something further worked on in abloom post, but thought it worth mentioning.