Education

Is Emotional Intelligence Vital?

man kneeling down near shore
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Is emotional intelligence vital?

In our society, we like to measure intelligence primarily through standardised testing and the number of degrees that a person holds, or the job title that they have. But is this truly what it means to be intelligent, or is there more to it than that?

In one of the last sessions for my master’s course, we somehow got on to the subject of measuring intelligence.  We began a discussion about how we personally interpret or guess someone’s intelligence.  It started simple enough, if you get good grades, you must be smart, that is after all how we categorically measure how clever someone is as they grow. 

But what about when you are an adult?  Do we measure intelligence on the job you have, or perhaps the amount of money you make? Someone who makes a lot of money should surely be intelligent otherwise they wouldn’t be able to make so much money.  But does that mean that every person who is struggling financially is unintelligent? Of course not! 

The truth is, there really is no way to measure intelligence, it really can’t be done. There are so many external factors, extenuating circumstances, life events that affect the different things that we achieve in life. There are also many different ways in which we prioritise and assign importance to various life events. Someone may think the biggest goal in their life is to become a millionaire. 

Someone may think that once they have raised a happy healthy family, they will have succeeded at life. Others may want to spend their years travelling the world and experiencing all that the earth has to offer. All of these people would honestly believe their way of doing life is the right way or the best way, and they would probably think that because they believe that and follow that plan, that they are also highly intelligent for working out the meaning of life. The funny thing is, they’d all be right, and they’d all be wrong.

My advisor brought up a great point after we’d all finished arguing about whether making a lot of money means you are intelligent or not. She simply said: ‘But isn’t it just as important to be emotionally intelligent?  Isn’t the true measure of intelligence our ability to empathise and feel compassion?’. When she said those words, I didn’t know what to say, and I don’t know what anyone else said after either. It was like a lightbulb moment in my head.

I’ve spent my entire life scraping by through school, through A levels, through both of my degrees, all the time feeling that I am just fluking my way through life. That the fact that I have to work so hard to get mediocre results means that I am, fundamentally, unintelligent. 

I’ve felt like a fraud and an imposter in every top set French class, in every triple science lesson, with every one mark off a distinction grade I’ve ever managed to earn by chance. But I have always been able to empathise, I have always put myself in the shoes of other people, I hurt when other people hurt, I get the most joy in my life from making other people smile or laugh or raising money for charities that I feel passionately about. 

I may never have been at the top of any class I’ve ever taken. I may never have gotten straight A’s. I may never have gotten an award for anything I’ve done academically. But I am kind, I have well developed emotional intelligence, I care about people, about animals, about nature. You can be intelligent without a piece of paper to prove it. 

You might not be the richest, you might not have the cushiest job, you might not have any official qualifications, but the world needs more than that. It needs more people to be emotionally intelligent, and we can all work on that, no matter how old we are, no matter how well we remember Pythagoras’ theorem. We can and should be kind, empathetic, and compassionate.

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