Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Not so bright

Intelligence takes many forms. It's not just a question of doing well in IQ tests or being good at reading, writing and arithmetic.

We all know people who have high IQs or brilliant Oxbridge degrees or glittering careers but are also total halfwits when it comes to socialising, making friends or helping someone who's emotionally distraught.

What use is a mastery of quadratic equations or existential philosophy if you offend and patronise everyone you meet, never listen to anyone properly or can't grasp a person's very different background or personality? You might as well still be a bawling infant.

What's called social or emotional intelligence is just as important as the sorts of intelligence the textbooks concentrate on.

I remember one woman I worked with whose husband had a dazzling academic record and a phenomenal IQ but she complained constantly that as a spouse he was sorely lacking.

He was incapable of comforting or supporting her when she was distressed over some work or family problem. He was embarrassed by showy displays of happiness, sadness or enthusiasm. He never commented on her achievements, only her failures.

He may have had an encyclopaedic knowledge of South American dictatorships, but she divorced him and moved in with a plumber who gave her the appreciation and emotional empathy she was desperate for.

That type of intelligence isn't taught in schools, it isn't recognised as a vital life skill. If you're lucky you pick it up from parents and friends. If not, you blunder through life alienating one person after another and wondering why.

Understanding algebra is good. But understanding the human heart is better.

26 comments:

kylie said...

amen to that

Nick said...

Kylie - There's a lot of it about. Especially among the male of the species.

kylie said...

yeah, i was rushing off when i wrote that but i wanted to say i know all about it

Rummuser said...

You have written about a subject that I hold very dear to my heart and I conduct classes on. As you say in your response to Kylie, there is a lot of it around and perhaps formal education systems should be asked to include this as a subject in say middle school.

Nick said...

Kylie - That sounds a bit like the voice of bitter experience!

Ramana - You conduct classes on it, that's interesting. Presumably only for those who're actually aware of their communication shortcomings?

Brighid said...

I'm always amazed at the theory of this needs to be taught in a class. I thought this was a responsiblity of parents: Raising "well rounded" children that can function well on many levels. Each expanding their unique individual talents, ever mindful of their impact on others.

Nick said...

Brighid - I agree, it's up to parents to teach these skills. Though with boys, I think there's still the lingering idea that males can't or needn't be emotionally literate - that's a female skill.

Suburbia said...

So much with you there. It is a shame that emotional intelligence is not valued in school.

Just read your last comment and I think that emotional intelligence in men is very attractive indeed :)

Brighid said...

Interesting, do you think males are desensitized by things like video games, peer pressure, or???

Nick said...

Suburbia - Emotional intelligence in a man is very noticeable because it's so often lacking. Much more common in gay men.

Brighid - I think peer pressure is the big factor. So many men still reject emotional sensitivity as something girly and unmasculine rather than being an essential part of relationships.

Leah said...

Are you familiar with Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory? It's relevant to this topic. He believed that "interpersonal intelligence" was just as significant as the other types, and I have to agree that is as, if not more, important.

Cinnamon said...

Sometimes a lack of emotional intelligence can be due to an autistic spectrum disorder. It is very difficult for people thus affected to read social situations and another person's emotions.

Nick said...

Leah - No, I didn't know about that, thanks for the tip. In fact he suggests at least eight different types of intelligence! Intelligence certainly goes way beyond whether you can complete a sequence of numbers....

Cinnamon - That's true, both autism and Asperger's can make socialising very difficult, however intelligent you are in other ways. They can be very frustrating.

Baino said...

Nick there was a time I'd agree in relation to Men having difficulty emotionally but as I get older, I find more and more women, particularly smart, high profile women, have the same problem. I think there's a condition of 'intellectual snobbery' that prevents many high achievers getting in touch with their emotions. I know, gross generalisation but I see it a lot particularly women in politics and the boardroom. Poor communicators empathisers.

Thriftcriminal said...

Quite true, it is kind of assumed that this is a fundamental human skill that everyone should just pick up, for some it is less easy. In fact I sense an element of judgment on your part, perhaps they have an emotional learning disability and should be more deserving of your empathy rather than criticism? Oh, one observation, perhaps the chap ended up rather happy that his ex shoved off to a plumber and he no longer has these awkward demands on his limited emotional resources?

Nick said...

Baino - Very interesting insight that the problem seems common among high-flyers generally whatever the sex. It's certainly true of a lot of the middle managers I've come across. The "intellectual snobbery" idea is good too.

Thrifty - I find emotional insensitivity shocking and upsetting but I'm not judgmental if the person honestly doesn't know any better. I've been just as insensitive myself on occasion. And yes indeed, the snubbed husband might well have been secretly relieved!

Rummuser said...

Yes, and not as often and to as many people as I would like to due to my preoccupation with my care giving duties. You can see my view on communications on this post: http://rummuser.com/?p=1570

Nick said...

Ramana - Yes, it was a thought-provoking post. The psychologist John Gottman is right about defensiveness and contempt blocking communication, but I think criticism is okay if it's supportive rather than undermining. I'm impressed that you've been analysing your own behaviour so carefully!

Wisewebwoman said...

Great post Nick. Aspergers's has a lot to do with this, I find. Also the fear factor: "if you really know me, would you still like me?" thing.
90% of men (IMHO and experience) are terrified of emotional proximity to another and I'm not talking sexual. This is why women get so frustrated.
And the business model is to blame for some women shutting down. Crying in the boardroom? That's enough to lose your job....
showing your frustration? ...you must be menstrual..... etc.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Glad you agree this tends to be a male problem. But is it nature or nurture, I wonder? I tend to think that if boys and girls were both expected to be emotionally sensitive (and open), regardless of gender, then they would be. And yes, businesswomen are often expected to be as hard and unemotional as the men.

I think women are also better at the "would you still like me" anxiety. They're more willing to take the risk of disclosing things, especially if they've done so in the past and the sky didn't fall in.

Thriftcriminal said...

You also make a fundamental assumption that itisall down to phenotype, whereas it could be genetic. In fact it could be sex linked like colour blindness. I'm all in favour of good manners, but if someone's genetic make up causes them to be emotionally distant that's hardly their fault. Interraction is bound to be more stimulating for some than others, that's clear, and those that find it less rewarding are likely to me stimulated by other things, like mathematics, making them good at it. What is called for here is more understanding and less conjecture.

Nick said...

Thrifty - Oh no, I'm not ruling out genetics. It's a moot point whether it's due to nature or nurture, though I think male conditioning has a lot to do with it. Certainly if it's genetic you can hardly blame someone for it. I totally agree we need more understanding and less conjecture.

meno said...

I just finished reading a book called "Born on a Blue Day" written by a man with either autism or aspergers. He was a whiz at calculating, but human emotion puzzled him.

It was interesting.

Nick said...

Meno - That sounds very interesting, I must track down a copy. It's strange how some people are completely at home with emotions while others are totally out of their depth.

Liz said...

I like the last two sentences.

Nick said...

Liz - Thanks! I really admire those people with a natural empathy for other people's deepest emotions. It's something I have to really work at.