- Title: Social Intelligence
- Author: Daniel Goleman
- First Published: 2006
Take responsibility for the energy you bring into this room/house/space. The concept of emotional contagion is alive and well! Ever notice when someone comes into your space in an upbeat mood, you immediately start to feel more upbeat? What about when someone approaches in a somber mood? You mirror their gloom. This is a biological phenomenon caused by mirror neurons. Now that we know this behavior is hard-wired, it is that much more important to take responsibility for the emotional energy you give off.
We as humans are by nature compassionate. It may not always seem to be this way if you watch the news, but if you consider the number of opportunities people might have to commit an antisocial/dishonest/rude act as the denominator in a fraction and take the number of such acts that will actually occur as the numerator, you will find that the resulting ratio holds at close to zero on just about any day. One might wonder what effect it would have if the news highlighted the positives rather than always focusing on the negatives.
To feel connected to another person, you need to treat them like a “You” rather an “It”. As an “It”, a person becomes an object rather than a sentient being. When someone is being treated as a “You”, both people are attuned to each other. An example is a phone call with another person. If you are multi-tasking while talking on the phone, you are treating that person as an “It” because your attention can only be placed on one item at a time. To be attuned requires attention. It is remarkable that the other person on the phone can reliably notice this lack of synchronicity rather easily.
When we feel as if we have a “secure base” to return to, we are much more likely to take chances and risks. This is true in both childhood and adulthood. A secure base refers to a strong emotional relationship with someone that you can rely on without any worry. Along those lines, there are three main styles of attachment in close relationships, especially in romantic relationships. Most people fall into the secure attachment style, easily getting close to others and being comfortable depending on them. Some people are anxious in their romantic relationships, vulnerable to worry about the stability of their relationship. Lastly, other folks are avoidant, uncomfortable being emotionally close to others. The underlying problem with anxious and avoidant types is rigidity. These strategies make sense in specific situations, but they are trusted and followed even when they fail. These styles are largely shaped in childhood, but since they were learned, they can be modified under the right circumstances and with the right experience.
Social connections are good for our health. Having just a few quality relationships can prove to be the largest contributor to positive mental health and overall well-being. Quality is more important than quantity as it is the depth of the relationship that matters. This is especially important as we get older and our social circles naturally diminish.
There is a sweet spot for achievement. When we are not challenged, we are subject to low levels of stress and thus boredom. When we are challenged too much, we succumb to high levels of stress and anxiety. Right in the middle is where we enjoy optimal cognitive efficiency. While we are distressed, we don’t think as clearly and we lose interest in pursuing goals, even important ones.
The correctional system in the United States is not really correcting anything. In a typical prison, the behavior that is required to survive is the exact behavior that was a problem for the prisoner in the first place. That is why a good number of prisoners end up back in jail shortly after they are released. It has been found that many criminals don’t have empathy for the victims of their transgressions. Without empathy, they do not feel the effects of their crimes. If they did, they would think twice before taking action. This is what we need to teach, especially to juveniles, when there is still time to shape their neural pathways. Forming small “communities” of prisoners in an environment where there is accountability among the members can foster empathy and teach basic lessons in managing anger and conflicts and self-regulation. This will actually serve to “correct” the problem behaviors rather than reinforce them.
Social responsibility begins now. We must act in ways that help create optimal states in others. We must “nourish our social connections”. A crucial challenge ahead of us is to expand our circle of compassion, increasing those we count among Us and shrinking those we count as Them.
“We must love one another or die” – W.H. Auden