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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Emotional Intelligence

It's no small irony that I spent much of today discussing emotional intelligence, then had this story waiting for me when I sat down to catch up the day's news.

I don't know Ala Buzreba, nor do I have any inkling on her past or present views about anything. What I do know is that she's a human being, built of the same fibre as any of us, and as such driven by the same cognitive hardwiring as any of us.

This doesn't excuse her offensive tweets, but that's not my point.  What interests me is where they come from.  

You can make whatever comments you want about youth, or Islam, or social media; my interest with stuff like this tends to start at the neurochemical level and stretch up to society and broader sociological shifts.

Have you ever been really mad?  Mad enough to feel the hate swelling within you, washing over you like a purifying (or expunging) force?  Mad enough to say or do something you regret?

There's a reason anger feels like a hot flash in your veins; that's exactly what it is.

Any flush of emotion - love, shock, anger, lust, even hope - involves the brain flooding your body with specific hormones in response to external stimuli (or, as is the case with endorphin runner highs, internal).  Our bodies are programmed to react in certain ways in certain circumstances to promote our survival and reproduction.

Of course there's more to being human than fight/flight, food, mate competition and mating and nurturing of relationships, but those activities are the basic functions of any living creature. 

Whatever else we are is mapped on top of that.

Part of the added layers is the layer of our brain that enables us to think logically, exercise self-restraint and train ourselves into differing behaviour sets.  It's both hard and counter-intuitive, but it's possible.

Emotional self-regulation, empathy (the ability to read and respond to the emotional states of others), etc. are the tools we have developed to domesticate our emotions the way we have domesticated animals like cows and sheep.

To function in a complex, increasingly diversified society where so much of what we're surrounded with can easily be interpreted as a threat (differing skin tones, clothing styles, gender preferences, etc), the ability to step beyond the constraints of our emotional nature and be pro-social is a necessary one.

The problem - especially in politics - is that much of our communicative culture is all about evoking emotions, stimulating the part of our cognitive selves that's more prone to gut-instinct reactions than thoughtful considerations.  Attack ads are a great example of this.

When partisans dehumanize each other and break their own codes of ethics in political combat, they justify doing to others what they wouldn't in good conscience do to another human - because they aren't human.

It's a step down the same spectrum as justifying murder as a political act.

War room politics, hyper-aggressive tactics and messaging and whatnot may make for good vote-motivational activity, but there are consequences to it.

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