“Anyone got a can-opener?” Opening up the Internet

As promised in my text Stop the world, I wanna get off, here is the text related to learning in the context of Internet and developing countries. It was inspired by discussions during the September meeting of the IDEAS group in Geneva. Chaired by Bruno Lanvin, the subject of this “dinner-discussion” was the role of the Internet in developing countries.

OK! So you have a good idea and you’d like to share it with others. You talk about it to the people around you. Some find it great, some criticise it, others think you’re nuts! Talking about your idea matures it. Maybe you can make something of it. Writing often helps. At the same time, you may have helped others to take a step forward by bringing them to think about it. So far, so good.

Now, had you been rock sure of your idea from the outset, presenting your knowledge on a take-it or leave-it basis, chances are neither you nor others would have got so much out of it. It is this type of “knowing” that contributes to disqualifying all those who don’t know. It is this type of “school-master” knowledge on the part of some that turns not knowing into a pest for the others rather than a chance to learn. Maybe not knowing should be seen as an opportunity for those who want to learn rather than a handicap.

Now let’s come back to your idea and suppose that it has to do with improving the way something is done. What is pompously called developing “best practices”. And you say to yourself, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if people did things like that!”. As a parent, a teacher, a manager,… you may be in a position to force people to change and do things your way, although some persuasion might be necessary. Once your back is turned, of course, there’s a good chance that people will revert to their old ways of doing things. What’s more, are you sure your way was really the best?

Ways of doing things resist change even under duress. Wanting to do good can so easily turn into bloody crusades. Ideally, people have to adopt the idea for themselves or, even better, develop their own best ways of doing things. That’s pretty frustrating if you are full of good ideas about how others could do things. It is downright annoying if you get a kick out of telling people how to do things. It may even be disastrous if you’re an expert whose livelihood depends on figuring out how others should work.

That doesn’t necessarily mean your idea is for the scrap heap or that you are out of work. It means finding ways of having others adopt and adapt your ideas as their own. That calls for a low profile. It is here that the top-down method turns out to be pretty inefficient. Many people in positions of authority bemoan the difficulty of having people learn the right way to do things, yet people in authority everywhere continue to lack confidence in the ability of others to develop their own ways of doing things.

Changing ways that things are done, then, has very little to do with telling people what to do, but much more with creating a framework for them to develop their own ways of doing things. If we take the example of Internet use in developing countries (although the same probably applies elsewhere, for example in bringing associations to the Net), Bruno Lanvin of UNCTAD pointed to several useful observations.

  • South-South peer exchange, ie. between actors in developing countries, is perceived as extremely beneficial by all those involved whereas input from developed countries could well be refused as paternalist.
  • Developing countries have to re-invent the use of these tools for themselves.
  • The basic know-how and financial requirements necessary to go out and use the Internet are getting smaller and smaller everyday.

A friend of mine, Pascal Eric Gaberel, has an amusing way of describing the Net. He says the Internet is like a tin-can in which the can-opener is inside the can. Most of what people need to know about the Net and many other things are on the Net itself. Once they get on, on-line information and peer exchange would be sufficient for them to learn all they need to know. So the first question is: how do you provide a light-weight Net-opener that fits in your pocket and can be duplicated and passed on to hundreds of others. Other questions will follow.

Emotional skills on the Internet

The following article is one of a series of texts about Emotional Intelligence stimulated by reading Daniel Goleman’s book about Emotional Intelligence, by teleworking on the Internet and research work observing the workings of a number of primary schools in Geneva, Switzerland. See also an introduction to Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence in Schools.You might also like to read Are we learning or just managing competences? and Prayer – going beyond emotional intelligence.

Confused images of emotions

The Internet has a rather confused image in terms of emotions. On the one hand, as a complex technical system, it is frequently portrayed as evacuating emotions and depersonalising relationships. Or if there are emotions, they are seen to be doubtful, fake, phoney, unreal – with notable stories of people playing at what they are not. At the same time, the Internet is pictured as the land of extremes: sex, violence, racism, religious fanaticism,… For those who are more in the know, emotions can still be quite strong. Flaming is a common phenomenon, in which people blow their top on-line. Rather like car drivers busily picking their noses with what they imagine to be unseen impunity, computer drivers blast off at others from the supposed security of their private space on the safe side of the screen. This lack of self-restraint is not limited to the on-line community, however, but is part of a more widespread move to unbridled individualism, lack of self-restraint and the absence of consideration for others.

Taking another perspective …

Seeking to attribute particular emotions or their absence to Internet use may prove to be misguided if not futile. A more constructive approach to emotions and the Internet might be to raise the question of what emotional and relational skills are required in the on-line world and how these might be acquired or enhanced. Here are some suggestions:

Attentive reading, thoughtful writing
Almost all on-line exchange is text-based. As a result, emotional and relational skills have a great deal to do with picking up emotional signals in what others write and being aware of the emotional impact of what you write yourself. As text lacks many of the emotional clues that enrich face to face exchange, it is all the more important to pay particular attention to how words are used. What convictions, value judgements and emotions do words express and how are they perceived by reader(s)?

Writing, as it is taught in schools, has to do with grammatical and lexical correctness and, if you are lucky, the appropriateness of the structuring of ideas. The initial effort necessary with emotional aspects of writing is one of awareness. Ways and means have to be devised to draw people’s attention to this facet of on-line exchange. Beyond awareness, the old adage “practice makes perfect” has never been truer than with writing! .. and writing for others has the added advantage that not only can you be less complacent and self-indulgent, but also there is no better testing ground for how emotions are expressed and understood.

Dealing with your own emotions
All those involved in teleworking must be aware of having feelings related to loneliness, abandon and lack of recognition creeping up on them. A couple of days without messages from people that count and you begin to wonder what is happening. Not only do you need to know how to deal with such feelings yourself but, being aware of them, you can be of great help to others working on-line by your consideration and concern in how and when you write to them. Setting up a small group of people whom you can talk (or write) to about such issues can be a great help. Ideally creating such a “considerate culture” amongst those people that count the most for you would be the best. At the beginning it may seem an unnecessary burden when work is bustling to get done, but in the long run it will improve communication and efficiency.

What’s more, in communication carried out at a distance almost uniquely by e-mail it is easy to misinterpret what is written and attribute intentions that are not necessarily there. Gravitating in the on-line world requires making a clear distinction between your own emotions and those you attribute to others and what they really think and feel. Once again awareness is the first step so that people become attentive to this aspect of communication. Some people are naturally sensitive but others need to make an effort. It helps to ask yourself what you are feeling and how these feelings are being expressed in what you write. Ideally you need to be able to ask for clarification when there is a doubt. This can be difficult in a helter-skelter world where results are required quickly and emotions are seen as extraneous. There’s a need to create a considerate culture in which it is known that speed of delivery can result in loss of quality especially when it leads to ignoring potential misunderstandings and conflicts.

Collaborative working
Collaborating with others, especially on-line, requires a certain amount of self-restraint as well as concern and respect for the others involved. Misplaced or ill chosen words can do much damage. In working on-line, there’s a very great need to understand and to clarify the work that is being done together. Many current ways of working involve chiefs and Indians but not necessarily direct collaboration. In collaborative working, there’s a great need to encourage all the members of the team. Recognising the value of the others in the group and letting them know you appreciate them can be quite a help. Compliments and praise are all too rare. Good leadership has a lot to do with helping everyone in the group move towards common goals. You need to be open to what others are suggesting and be able to capitalise on their ideas however foreign they may seem to you. At the same time, you need to be able to assert your opinion without seeming aggressive or domineering. Knowing when to lead and when to follow is a very useful asset.

Ideally you should be able to discuss these considerations with your fellow teleworkers. However, such meta-considerations are not always welcome. It can be useful to discuss such relationships with others who have similar experiences. How about setting up a small peer group? Such on-line exchange can be a gold-mine as not only does it allow you to make the most of the experience of others but it also brings you to formulate your thoughts clearly in writing for others and helps you realise the value of your own experience.

Assisting learning
We need to begin with how we learn ourselves. Are we curious about what is going on around us? Do we ask questions and try to find out as much as possible about a subject that interests us? We need to be able to ask those essential, naive questions at the risk of appearing a blithering idiot. Only when you admit that you don’t know is there any chance of learning. What and how can we learn from others? School – and beyond it the individualistic society we live in – has drummed into us the idea that copying is bad. There is no shame in admitting that we can learn from others. Someone who was very important for me once said “You can learn something from every person you meet.” I must admit, I find it very hard to live up to.

Being aware of the process of learning can be a great help in helping others learn. The whole concept of learning, especially on-line, is shifting away from the provision of information to being able to raise an awareness of learning processes and help others master these processes for themselves. As mentioned elsewhere here, discussing personal experiences in learning and teaching with others doing similar work can be a great help especially when it is done in writing as on-line exchange requires.

For further information about Emotional Intelligence:
Emotional Intelligence Services, http://ei.haygroup.com – information, resources, tools and an online test of Emotional Intelligence, including insights from Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence in Schools

The following article is one of a series of texts about Emotional Intelligence sparked off by Daniel Goleman’s book about Emotional Intelligence and research work observing a number of primary schools in Geneva, Switzerland. I am also very much indebted to my two children, Zoé and Iannis, who are daily confronted with the refusal of school to take into consideration their emotional abilities and difficulties. See also the introductory text, Emotional Intelligence as well as Emotional skills on the Internet. You might also like to read Are we learning or just managing competences?and Prayer – going beyond emotional intelligence.

Schools as living organisms

There is currently a tendency to consider schools as organic wholes that grow and develop, and within which all the actors, their actions and their knowledge are interrelated and interact with the surrounding environment. This organic metaphor for institutions is taken up by those who seek to increase the efficiency of schools as places of learning. Amongst other things, in drawing a parallel with the functioning of living organisms, they stress internal communication and in particular the impact of daily negotiations between the actors concerning ways and means of running the school. They argue that only a far greater collaboration between all the actors can lead to real improvement of school performances. They also see the school as a place where pupils can learn something of their future social behaviour from these exchanges. Yet they stop short of pointing to the need for a more systematic approach to certain skills related to understanding emotions in oneself and in one’s relationships with others.

Should skills related to “emotional intelligence” find their way into school curricula? Given the current educational paradigm, can such skills be effectively developed in schools? Would the introduction of skills related to emotional intelligence radically modify schools or would schools travesty such skills?

The underlying lessons of today’s schools

The underlying lessons of the current educational paradigm have little to do with the specific content of education, but rather are closely related to inculcating market logic and re-enforcing the concomitant drive to increased individualism. They include

  • attributing quantitative values to qualitative phenomena – let’s us call it putting a price on performance. You will recognise the all-pervasive marks system which rapidly becomes the dominant goal of pupils;
  • encouraging individual competition rather than group collaboration and solidarity;
  • making believe that learning is a scarce commodity, that takes places only in given places at specific times, with pre-defined subjects and with the help of experts.
  • emphasising rationality and logic while neglecting emotions and relationships.

Learning in school is a progressive, planned activity cast in the light of the firmly held belief that children are different from adults and that they need to be prepared for the adult world at the same time as they need to be protected from it. This conception of learning and the very idea of childhood are recent inventions. There are reasons to believe that, with the advent of an electronically networked society, the clear distinction between childhood and adulthood is disappearing. One thing is certain, whether it be via the media or directly in their lives, children are increasingly subjected to the whole range of emotions known to adults, not to mention a wide variety of relationships spreading from the best to the worst.

Introducing emotional intelligence in schools?

Can you teach emotional “skills” in the rarefied atmosphere of schools? It would seem that “teaching” emotional intelligence – should it be possible – challenges all the basic tenets of the current paradigm of school-based learning mentioned above. Not to mention widely extending the remit of school in terms of content and form, in particular modifying the relationship between life and school. Many teachers and parents alike might well insist that such learning is not a question for schools, but rather the responsibility of parents. But the family is no longer the ideal place for it. In the Western World,the majority of families have shrunk from an extended community to its strict minimum (one or two parents and one or two children) … and much less time is spent in the family than in school. What’s more, parents are not always in a position to cope with or dispense such emotional skills.

What would be the consequences of introducing emotional intelligence in schools? Are schools the right place for it? Is it even possible? Scientific research, in particular on how the brain works, indicates that the formation of emotional skills is much easier in the “formative” years from birth to the late teens. Looking at existing structures, school is the major activity in that age group. However, emotions rarely have a place in schools. Beyond infants school and early primary school, almost all efforts are concentrated on cognitive skills (reading, writing, mathematics,…). What’s more, there is little or nothing in the standard training of teachers that prepares them from such a task. Yet there is no subject where the quality and ability of teachers would be more crucial.

Introducing emotions in schools would be a radical change! Yet schools do not change so readily. Those well-meaning people who have tried to introduce innovations in schools have come up against considerable resistance from teachers, students and parents alike. Yet without their active participation, no such far-reaching change is possible.

One possible solution, if such essential skills prove too difficult to develop in schools, would be to start by introducing them in the spaces around school. During the breaks for example. Daniel Goleman describes how appointed pupil mediators, once all involved know the rules of the game, resolve conflicts in the playground. Such a “school for emotions” could be a local, community-based activity in conjunction with other activities like scouts, parent-teachers associations, artistic expression groups, clubs etc.

What skills?

But what exactly might such skills be? In his book, Daniel Goleman gives a considerable list. Here are some indications inspired by a list quoted by Goleman from a book calledSelf Science: The Subject is Me (2nd edition) by Karen Stone McCown et al. [San Mateo, Six Seconds, 1998]

  • Self awareness
    One of the basic emotional skills involves being able to recognise feelings and put a name on them. It is also important to be aware of the relationship between thoughts, feelings and actions. What thought sparked off that feeling? What feeling was behind that action?
  • Managing emotions
    It is important to realise what is behind feelings. Beliefs have a fundamental effect on the ability to act and on how things are done. Many people continually give themselves negative messages. Hope can be a useful asset. In addition, finding ways to deal with anger, fear, anxiety and sadness is essential: learning how to soothe oneself when upset, for example. Understanding what happens when emotions get the upper hand and how to gain time to judge if what is about to be said or done in the heat of the moment is really the best thing to do. Being able to channel emotions to a positive end is a key aptitude.
  • Empathy
    Getting the measure of a situation and being able to act appropriately requires understanding the feelings of the others involved and being able to take their perspective. It is important to be able to listen to them without being carried away by personal emotions. There’s a need to be able to distinguish between what others do or say and personal reactions and judgements.
  • Communicating
    Developing quality relationships has a very positive effect on all involved. What feelings are being communicated to others? Enthusiasm and optimism are contagious as are pessimism and negativity. Being able to express personal concerns without anger or passivity is a key asset.
  • Co-operation
    Knowing how and when to take the lead and when to follow is essential for effective co-operation. Effective leadership is not built on domination but the art of helping people work together on common goals. Recognising the value of the contribution of others and encouraging their participation can often do more good than giving orders or complaining. At the same time, there is a need to take responsibilities and recognise the consequences of decisions and acts and follow through on commitments.
  • Resolving conflicts
    In resolving conflicts there is a need to understand the mechanisms at work. People in conflict are generally locked into a self-perpetuating emotional spiral in which the declared subject of conflict is rarely the key issue. Much of the resolution of conflicts calls on using the other emotional skills mentioned here.

For further information about Emotional Intelligence:
Emotional Intelligence Services, http://ei.haygroup.com – information, resources, tools and an online test of Emotional Intelligence, including insights from Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence

“An eagle is nested on the top of my head. I can have him soar up above me whenever I want and his vision from those heights is a part of me. At all times, I have to stay linked to him by an invisible thread of light…”
Freely adapted from Henri Gougaud’s, Les Sept Plumes de l’Aigle (Seuil, Paris, 1995).

The following text owes much to Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence”. I am also very much indebted to my two children, Zoé and Iannis, who are daily confronted with the refusal of school to take into consideration their emotional abilities and difficulties.
See also an Emotional Intelligence in Schools and Emotional skills on the Internet. You might also like to read Are we learning or just managing competences? and Prayer – going beyond emotional intelligence.

Our perception of the relationship between thought and emotions turns out to be somewhat misguided. The majority of us tacitly subscribe to the idea that thought is most appropriate when not clouded by emotions. And, sure enough, strong emotions make it difficult to think straight. Rationalists have even made the elimination of emotion from thought their credo. Yet, clinical experiments show that thought devoid of emotions renders satisfactory decision-making impossible. The problem is not with emotions as such, but with the appropriateness of emotion and its expression. The task is not so much to suppress emotions – every feeling has its value and significance – but to strike a balance between rational thought and emotions. One of the keys to sound decision-making is a greater awareness of our emotions and those of others. Emotions are not just present when we fly off the handle or jump for joy, but are omnipresent in the most subtle ways in all our acts. How often are we in the sway of our emotions without even realising it? The message of El Chura in the quote above from Henri Gougaud’s book points to the need for a vigilant self-awareness at all times, not to be mistaken for a rigid self-control.

Emotional talent our society can’t afford to waste

At present, the emotional education of our children is left to chance. What does school teach them about emotions? Academic intelligence has little to do with emotional life. Based on rationality, school pays little or no attention to emotions lest they disrupt the class. Academic intelligence offers no preparation for the emotional turmoil of life. On the contrary school disparages emotional intelligence! Many of the natural abilities of children are not in handling complex mathematical calculations or memorising ancient history but rather in perceiving and understanding inherent emotional situations. Others are naturally gifted in handling relationships. Who could be so arrogant as to insist that academic knowledge is that much more important than emotional intelligence? Yet such is the case, to the extent that many emotionally gifted children leave school feeling like failures because they didn’t have the necessary marks in languages or mathematics! Our society can’t afford to waste their talent!

The murky picture

In a world increasingly centred on the unbridled satisfaction of individual needs, many people feel entitled to let free reign to their emotions without paying the slightest heed to the impact on those around them. Cut off from others in their individualism, some are victims of melancholy from which they can only escape with the help of cigarettes, drink or drugs. All of us are subject to ever increasing pressure as change accelerates and more and more aspects of life become uncertain. We are asked to be flexible, to learn to adapt. Yet being flexible is not so easy when fear and anxiety are just round the corner. At the same time, emotions such as stress, anxiety and anger in large doses are known to have serious adverse effects on physical health. How can we cope with such an apparently helpless situation?

There is a light!

There is a general feeling that, except in cases of excess when therapy is called for, there is little we can do about our emotions unless it be to swallow them or to vent them on those around us. Yet something can be done! We are not condemned to be eternal slaves to our ill-placed, seemingly unpredictable emotions or those of others. Basic skills related to handling emotions, settling disagreements peaceably and just plain getting along can be learnt or improved on. If we wish, we can develop human competencies such as self-awareness, self-control and empathy, and the arts of listening, resolving conflicts and co-operation. Not only is our ability at work and the quality of our life at home and at play at stake but also more generally the cohesion of society at large.

Read about introducing emotional intelligence in schools and about the emotional skills on the Internet. You might also like to read Are we learning or just managing competences? and Prayer – going beyond emotional intelligence

For further information about Emotional Intelligence:
Emotional Intelligence Services, http://ei.haygroup.com – information, resources, tools and an online test of Emotional Intelligence, including insights from Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence.