Why the world needs an emotional education

'It's time to ask how do I feel about myself and my world.'

 |  9-minute read |   23-01-2017
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A friend, who is a single mother was recently questioned by her 10-year-old son, "Where is my father? All my other friends have a father. Why don't I have a father?"

My friend did not sweep the question under the carpet or provide an excuse to her son. Instead, she made an effort to find out different books on families. I personally liked the book which showed different kinds of families — a grandmother raising a child by herself, an uncle and aunt raising a child, two aunts raising a child, a lesbian couple raising a child, and so forth. The message she gave her child was that there are different kinds of families, and that they are all normal.

"It is okay to be raised by a single mother. You are okay. We are okay."

Her son felt okay. I don't see him feeling victimised or angry on account of being a fatherless child anymore. Rather, I see him growing into a fine and balanced human being.

Consider on the other hand a friend whose mother re-married when she was quite young. Her mother never spokaye to her about her biological father. My friend grew up feeling the bitter lack and loss of her father. She  grew up feeling a victim of her circumstances and angry with the world. She was 35 years old when she finally mustered the courage to find out the details about her father, and connect the dots of her life.

happy-body_012317031216.jpg 'We have been conditioned to believe that the world is a dangerous place.' (Photo for representational purpose.)

Yesterday, I met a 22-year-old guy motorcycling across 46 countries. He shared that as a child, his mother would buy him a gift or take him out for dinner each time he failed in a subject. The lesson his mother had imparted was to accept and celebrate failures, as life is a string of disappointments and failures. The 22-year-old is a fiercely independent guy figuring his way around the world.

Now, consider a situation at work. There is an angry boss who yells at his team members. One of the team members feels really angry with his boss, another feels victimised and thinks "poor me", whereas a third one responds to his boss in a cool, calm way.

In life, we encounter all sorts of situations and people. What really matters and what really differentiates people is how they feel about these situations and how they are taught to respond to these feelings. Many a times, this ability to respond to our feelings becomes the defining line between success and failure.

Emotional researchers tell us that the way we respond to our feelings is a conditioned response. If as children, we learnt from our parents or teachers or peers that the way to respond to difficulties and challenges of life is through anger, there is a high probability that we will use anger to deal with difficult situations even as an adult.

Often I have heard people remark: "He is very intelligent. Just needs to find his balance; Your father was a genius. But he lacked wisdom; He was too intelligent for his own good. He ended being an alcoholic; My son is extremely sharp. He needs a good wife to keep him grounded and focused; He possesses a brilliant mind, but the divorce ruined him."

Brilliant people with excellent skill sets, but so incapable of communicating or listening that they thwart their own growth. Smart, intelligent people with high IQs unable to explore their full potential, rather feeling unhappy and trapped in their lives. A partner they do not connect with, a job they find mundane, a life they do not find fulfilling — yet they continue with the status quo, considering it to be their destiny, to be the futility of existence. They talk of their unfulfilled dreams and of a life that could have been theirs.

There are those who start off well, but a relationship crisis or life crisis threatens to break apart their painstakingly created little paradise. And then there are others who experience mid-life crisis and start questioning and re-evaluating their lives. Some of them pick a new hobby such as motorcycling or running that provides the much-needed sense of adventure.

I have heard some really intelligent people (including myself) comment : "I can't really ask for what I need (be it a pay hike in office or extra attention from wife at home); I have always had bad luck; I am an emotional fool; I am too old for all this. Just waiting for retirement now; It is a dog-eat-dog world. Got to be on the watch; they make me so angry; forget it; I am just not good enough."

Feelings of fear reflected in forms of self-pity, anger, guilt, shame, resentment and sadness. While these are normal human feelings, it happens that some of us never learned to process them and respond to them in a constructive fashion and instead end up feeling overwhelmed by them. We experience ourselves as their prisoners. These feelings become the reality of life and life appears to be harsh and overbearing.  

Some tend to numb their difficult feelings with various addictions and distractions like alcohol, parties, socialising, internet, gambling, hobbies, and so forth.

Have you ever asked yourself, "Why am I so angry?" Or after an angry outburst felt like "that wasn't me", or "that the situation did not deserve this kind of extreme anger".

There are people who hit their child, and feel guilty later; those who shout at a junior and feel pathetic later. They don't want to do it but somehow they don't know how to change their feelings and responses. They feel powerless over their anger. When it comes to responding to feelings, a significant number of people find themselves clueless and confused.

emotional-body_012317031250.jpg Emotional researchers tell us that the way we respond to our feelings is a conditioned response. (Photo for representaional purpose.)

Psychology sheds light on how the narrative constructed by individuals and institutions in our early formative years becomes our compass for life. That narrative (founding beliefs) stays with us all our life at a sub-conscious level, and becomes a lens through which we respond to life. Almost like an auto pilot. The programme is uploaded into our psyche as children, and we simply continue to execute it.

Many of us have been trained in childhood to believe that we are not good enough. That love is conditional and we need to keep achieving more and doing more to acquire the love and validation of our loved ones and to prove our self-worth. We have been taught to give up our uniqueness and fit in with social standards and constructs.

We have been conditioned to believe that the world is a dangerous place, that we should not trust others and that we need to tread carefully. That we should not reveal our secrets to others, especially dirty family secrets. That we should stay shameful of our bodily functions. We should be ashamed of all our failures and poor behaviours.

We were not taught about self-love, self-acceptance and self-belief — the essential virtues that allow a person to float through any crisis in life. Rather we were taught the virtues of achievements, and social adherence.

We go through life doubting and shaming ourselves. "Am I not a good professional?" "Am I am not a good mother?" "Am I am not a good partner?"

What really constitutes good? We are all trying so hard to be good that we forget to pause and question these ideas of goodness. Where do they come from? How true are they?

We feel trapped and powerless by the beliefs we have cultivated as children, trying hard to live up to these illusionary standards we have set up in our heads.

What is the narrative of the world that was given to us as a child? Can we as adults change that narrative or are we doomed to live with this auto-programme? The answer is yes. With the resources and information available today, we do have a choice. While developing these social and emotional skills at the adult level is a complex process, it is possible.

For starters, we weren’t necessarily taught these skills as children and may not even realise that we can or need to develop them. So unless we were lucky enough to have socially and emotionally competent teachers or parents growing up, it is very easy to think that our problems are everyone else’s fault.

Emotional education is all about learning to recognise, process and respond to our feelings. It is about creating self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. It is the ability to see life as a series of adventures to be experienced, rather than a continuous set of problems to be solved. It is a solution-oriented and fun-oriented mindset.

It is ironical that while our societies have made great investments in education in different subjects — business, culture, arts — we are yet to acknowledge the necessity to be educated in our own emotional functioning. For example, we might need to learn (rather than just know) how to avoid sulking or how to interpret our grief, how to choose a partner or make oneself understood by a colleague.

The world is becoming a brewing pot of hate and anger today because we haven't been taught to process our emotions in a constructive fashion. Instead, the narrative of anger, hate and defensiveness has multiplied with each passing generation.

My belief is that the solution to a lot of the world's problems lies in emotional empowerment. In people believing in themselves, and in their own capacity for change. In people sharing an empowering and hopeful narrative with each other. In our collective ability to envision a more beautiful and vibrant world.

This feeling of empowerment springs forth from within. It is how we feel about ourselves, and the world we live in. That feeling builds our perspectives of the world around us. Our feelings about ourselves and the world are the key to everything in our life. They are the key to the story we tell ourselves about our own life and about the world.

This is not about economic empowerment. A person maybe rich and confident, yet may feel victimised by his wife, or by his clients, or his religion. The masks of victimhood are many. There are multiple reasons for discontent and fear in our lives — our families, neighbourhoods, jobs, communities, countries, animals, finances, etc.

We need to ask ourselves this question, "How do I feel about myself and my world? Do I think of myself as "poor me, who has been handed a tough life", or "I love my life irrespective of its challenges and troubles"?

I believe it is the only way forward. The world needs an emotional revolution.

Also read: Why wait for a year? Happy New Day to you!


Pearl Khan Pearl Khan

The writer is an imaginist, adventurer, dreamer and bullshitter.

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