Radical Truth Telling; An Immodest Proposal

by Claude Steiner Phd

The most significant political act in the Information Age is lying. Information has always been used as an avenue to power. Denial of information and deception are age old power plays. But at this time when information can reach every corner of the globe, instantaneously, when information is becoming the premier conduit to power, beyond wealth, beyond armies, and when good information, broadcast around the world, can be immensely useful and bad information hugely damaging, lying has become a major source of political power to those who have access to cyberspace, that new dimension of reality which will rule our lives in the next century. (Click here for Cyberpsychology)
It is not commonly acknowledged that all life, humans particularly, hunger for information. Life cannot be sustained without it and to obtain information we will exercise a great deal of effort and go to extremes as far reaching as addiction and crime. Information has become a hugely profitable commodity and our economy is totally dependent on it. We are, for the first time in history, in a position, world wide, to satisfy the most basic of human hungers, information hunger; we have the information terminals and processors, we have the networks and we have the information economy. Unfortunately, however, we have a great problem with the information itself, namely that it is badly polluted with a variety of information toxins, variants all, of lying.
The powerful refinement of the production of information could, if used correctly be very beneficial to humanity. On the other hand, when what is being produced is increasingly synthetic and noxious information –lies– it has infinitely damaging potential. Lies without the amplifying power of technology are harmful but manageable. The process is similar to that of the refinement of coca leaves into crack, wine into whiskey, pot into sinsemilla. The high-tech lies of today are as overwhelming to the system as are crack, whiskey or sinsemilla against which the body has no way of protecting itself.
As early as 1947 Albert Einstein in a letter to Harry Truman pointed out that, as technology advances, our development as human beings is not keeping pace and that catastrophe threatens to be the outcome as technology outstrips people’s capacity to make appropriate use of it. As information technology proliferates we cannot afford to allow our parallel development as human beings to lag behind. What that means is that we have to reorient ourselves vis a vis information and that in turn means that, as a first step, we have to become info-literate. In particular, we have to develop an understanding of lying and truth telling.
The quality of information that we are exposed to and expose ourselves to has an extraordinarily important effect on our everyday lives. Unfortunately, in a manner similar to our environment’s degradation, in which the food, air and water that surrounds us is becoming increasingly toxic, the information which we are encouraging, permitting, asking for and consuming is in large measure disinformation, misinformation and info-junk.
Let me propose, then, that a most important aspect of our environment is the information environment. The information environment we are immersed in is badly polluted and there are several levels in which corrective measures could be taken. One such measures, which I am proposing for people to practice at the personal level is “radical truth telling.”
Lying is always engaged in order to stay in control and is part and parcel of the constant power abuse that our culture encourages and demands. In spite of the fact that every major religion proscribes lies, lying is an aspect of everyday life even in the most devoutly moral and religious households. Certainly, by the time a child is able to speak, parents are lying to it routinely and, eventually, the child is expected, as an aspect of proper socialization, to learn to lie as well.
We tell our children not to lie, yet we lie to them constantly. We tell them to be truthful as we continually do otherwise and we never tell them what a lie is, how it is different from the truth, and what we mean when we tell them that lying is wrong. To be sure we have all manner of rationalizations for lying to children; we assume that children could not take the truth or don’t want to know it or would be harmed by it, we believe that little white lies are harmless. But the real reasons for lying are far more practical; the fact is that we lie to stay in control and that to be truthful means to give up power and comfort, to have to be responsible for our actions and feelings and to face truth and reality especially the reality of other people’s responses to us and our acts.
The capacity to perceive, to understand and effectively deal with the world is severely curtailed by the presence of constant lies in our lives, the process of sorting out what is true and what is false, when to lie and when to tell the truth what to believe and what not to believe. Given all of these uncertainties the mind is prevented from working at its optimal level. It is said that we use only a small fraction of our mental capacity. If this is so, it surely is because most of our mental capacity is squandered by confusing information; misinformation, disinformation, falsehoods and lies. We are, if you pardon the very apt expression, “mindfucked”.
What this suggests is that we might do ourselves a service by adopting an entirely new policy regarding the way we handle information in our everyday lives which I call radical truth telling.
Clearly this is an extremist proposal which, if taken seriously, has to be approached with care. Any person who insisted in being completely truthful would be so out of phase with the rest of the world that he might soon be jailed or hospitalized. If one considers that being radically truthful involves never lying about anything as well as saying everything of significance that one wants, feels or believes it can be seen that the project has its dangers. In fact, it only makes sense, initially, in the most intimate and close relationships and only by mutual agreement.
If we are to begin taking the information age seriously, we must learn everything we can about information. We must become info-literate, that is to say, we must learn what information is and what noise is, what is a lie, what is truthful and what is true (and the difference between them.) Having made these determinations we ought to commit ourselves to a truthful path by beginning this process close to home, in the personal realm, before we can expect advertisers, teachers and politicians to follow suit.

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An Open-Hearted Approach to Emotional Intelligence


NINE WORKSHEETS. (For Use in Emotional Literacy Training Workshops.)

By Claude Steiner Ph.D.

(c) 1998 Claude M. Steiner PhD. 2901 Piedmont Avenue, Berkeley, 94705 USA

(510) 843 9667 FAX 848-9789  csteiner@igc.org    www.emotional-literacy.com



1. About Strokes

Strokes are units of interpersonal recognition.

Strokes Can be Good or Bad; Positive or Negative:


* Good, positive strokes (AKA: Warm Fuzzies) are wholly positive, heartfelt and truthful recognition transactions.

* Bad, negative strokes (AKA*: Cold Pricklies) are toxic recognition transactions.

1.) Overt put downs

                2.) Covert put downs .

a. Comparisons.

b. Insincere strokes (AKA: Plastic Fuzzies.)

* AKA: Also Known As

Strokes Can be Wanted or Unwanted:

Strokes which are positive in nature are not necessarily wanted by any one specific person.

Strokes Can be Physical, Verbal or Non-verbal (Action Strokes):

* Physical strokes can be simple touch, hugs, kisses, caresses, back rubs, being held, holding hands, etc.

* Verbal strokes can be about a person’s looks, clothing, intelligence, generosity, creativity, elegance, wisdom, dignity, leadership ability, tact, warmth, energy, taste, honesty or any attribute a person possesses.

* Action strokes are non-verbal forms of recognition like listening empathizing, or actively liking or loving someone

Strokes Have Power:

They have the power to soothe or agitate, to create good or bad feelings, to make people feel OK or Not OK about themselves, to heal physical and mental illness. Some strokes are more powerful than others depending on how much they are wanted , who is giving them and how strongly they are worded or delivered. Stroke starvation can lead to physical and mental and emotional illness. Depression is most often the result of stroke deficit. Stroke satisfaction “opens the heart.”



Strokes Involve Risk:

The risk of giving or asking for strokes depends on how much they are wanted and the likelihood of rejection or how much the critical Parent opposes them. When risky, stroking takes courage.


2. The Stroke Economy and the Critical Parent

Q.: People need positive strokes. So why don’t people exchange them freely?

A.: Because of the Stroke Economy rules enforced by the Critical Parent

The Critical Parent: (also known as the Pig Parent, Enemy, internalized oppressor, prison guard, harsh superego, low self esteem, electrode, negative self talk, cognitive traps, catastrophic expectations, stinking thinking, etc.)

The Critical Parent is a coherent, learned set of critical and controlling points of view which are often, but not always, heard as an internal, parental voice.

The basic message of the Critical Parent is:



You are bad (sinful, lazy, wicked, etc.)

You are ugly ( ugly face, ugly body, etc.)

You are crazy (mentally, emotionally, irrational, out of control, etc.)

You are stupid ( retarded, can’t think straight, confused, etc.)

You are doomed (ill, hopeless, self destructive, etc.)

And you will not be loved

The Critical Parent’s role in relation to strokes is to enforce the rules of the Stroke Economy. The Stroke Economy is a set of rules that regulates the exchange of human affection.

The Stroke Economy’s Rules of the Critical Parent are:

Don’t give strokes: If you have a stroke you want to give don’t give it

Don’t ask for strokes: If there is a stroke you want don’t ask for it.

Don’t accept strokes: Don’t accept a stroke you want.

Don’t reject strokes: Don’t reject a stroke you don’t want.

Don’t give yourself strokes

When most people follow some or all of these rules, the eventual outcome is that there will be a dramatic decrease in the strokes exchanged between people . Any stroke is better than no strokes at all. People who are stroke starved become willing or even eager to accept negative, toxic strokes. The result is that as predicted by the Critical Parent we are not loved


3. Opening The Heart

Opening the Heart is an Exercise for the Free Exchange of Strokes. We begin Emotional Literacy Training here because the heart is the gateway to our emotions and it is here that we can begin to explore feelings in relative safety.

1. Making a Cooperative Agreement: No Power Plays, specifically:



Honesty. an agreement not to lie by omission or commission,

especially about what we want or how we feel.

B. No Rescues; an agreement not to:

a) do anything we don’t want to do, or

b) do more than our share in any transactional exchange.

2. Dismantling the Stroke Economy by:

A. Giving Strokes:

a.) Overcoming Critical Parent prohibitions against giving strokes

b.) Strokes must be truthful, not manufactured or exaggerated

(Poetry is allowed, however.)

B. Asking for Strokes:

a. Overcoming Critical Parent prohibitions against asking for strokes.

b. When asking for strokes, depending of the risk we want to take, we can ask for a specific verbal or physical stroke from a specific person or for any kind of a stroke from any person.

C. Accepting/Rejecting Strokes

a. Overcoming Critical Parent prohibitions against taking strokes we want

b. Overcoming Critical Parent prohibitions against rejecting strokes we don’t want

c. Errors we commit:

i. Rejecting positive strokes we want

ii. Accepting toxic strokes (negative strokes with a positive face, or plastic fuzzies.)

iii. Accepting positive strokes we don’t want

D. Giving Oneself Strokes

Overcoming Critical Parent prohibitions against giving oneself strokes.

The practice of Opening the Heart has the effect of increasing the exchange of positive strokes, resulting in an expansion of positive feelings: Opening the Heart, between participants.



In Transactional Analysis we use three types of contracts:

Treatment or Teaching Contract: As in the case of any legal contract a treatment or teaching contract is mutual agreement between consenting adult individuals in which a certain service is performed by the therapist or teacher for the student or client for consideration. Contracts can be long term (as in curing depression) or short term (as in learning how to give or take strokes.)

Confidentiality Contract. We have two options:

Confidentiality Contract; Type I:

*Nothing transpiring in the meeting will be discussed outside of the meeting.

Confidentiality Contract; Type II:

*When discussing the events of the meeting outside of the meeting the person will take responsibility to make sure that the identities of the people discussed cannot be recognized.

*Anyone can impose a partial or total ban on being discussed outside of the meeting by just requesting it.

Cooperative Contract: A cooperative contract is a mutual agreement to abstain from power plays.

A power play is any maneuver designed to get another person to do (or stop from doing) something that she/he would not do of his/her free will. Power plays range from the gross, physical to the subtle, psychological.

Two types of subtle, psychological power plays are especially important in human relationships and should be especially avoided:

Lies: Bold-face lies or lies by omission; including

lies about what we want or don’t want for ourselves and

lies about how we feel.

Rescues: A Rescue occurs when a person either:

does something he/she does not want to do or

he/she does more than her/his fair share in a situation.

Instead we will ask for what we want, while not doing what we don’t want to do, and negotiate to a mutually satisfying, cooperative consensus.


5. Surveying the Emotional Landscape; Part 1

Surveying the Emotional Landscape is an exercise about emotional awareness, emotional honesty and empathy and about people’s emotional interconnections.

Part I: An exercise that teaches to effectively show others how their actions affect our feelings and that shows how to accept that sort of information without defensiveness.

1. Making an Action/Feeling Statement:

The A/F transaction is a reciprocal exchange of information about how one person’s action has affected another person’s feelings.

When delivering an A/F statement we simply inform another person, as follows:

When you (action) I felt (feeling.)”

When speaking of an action it is important to characterize it in strict descriptive, behavioral terms; what the person did. No judgments, accusations or theories.

When describing a feeling it is important to specify the feeling (angry, happy, hurt, etc.) and its intensity (furious, annoyed, irritated, etc.) Again, no judgments, accusations or theories.

2. When accepting an A/F statement we acknowledge that a certain action of ours caused a certain feeling in another person.

I understand; when I (action,) you felt (feeling.)”

No defensiveness or attempts to explain or justify our actions.

With the action/feeling transaction we learn about the feelings we cause in people, the feelings they cause in us, and their intensity. We also learn to control our need to argue and be defensive when confronted with the consequences of our actions.


6. Surveying the Emotional Landscape Part 2

Part 2 of Surveying the Emotional Landscape, Validating Intuition, is an exercise in which we develop our intuitive skills and learn to be emotionally honest.

Validating Intuition, Empathic Perception or Paranoid Fantasy.

Intuition is a powerful tool for the acquisition of knowledge. Intuition can express itself as a hunch, an empathic perception or a paranoid fantasy. Intuitive knowledge, to be properly used must be checked out. Validating intuition is a reciprocal exchange of information about the accuracy of our intuitive perceptions.

1. When attempting to validate an intuition we ask the following kind of a question:

“I have a hunch about how you are feeling. Can I tell you about it ?

After permission is given:

“I have the hunch that you are feeling (explain)” or

“I have a paranoid fantasy that (explain.)”

2. When responding to an intuitive perception we endeavor to validate (instead of discounting) how much of it is correct, even if just a “grain of truth.”

With this transactional exchange we learn to become aware of our intuitive perceptions, to word them and to respectfully question others about their validity. When faced with another person’s perceptions we learn to honestly validate, instead of discounting their accuracy.


7. Taking Responsibility

Taking Responsibility concerns the emotional damage we cause each other and how to take sincere, open-hearted liability, apologize and make amends.

Rectification of Rescue, Persecution or Victim Behavior

Most of the emotional damage done in relationships is done while playing one of the three basic game roles: Rescuer, Persecutor or Victim. When we discover that we have been relating to others in one of these three roles it is important, as a way of rectifying the situation, to take responsibility and apologize:

RESCUE: “When I (action,) I Rescued you because: a. I was doing something I did not want to do” and/or b. “In my opinion, I was doing more than my fair share.”

PERSECUTION: “When I (action,) I Persecuted you because I addressed you with anger which did not fairly belong to you.”

VICTIM: “When I (action,) I acted as a Victim; I expected (or demanded) that you Rescue me.”

“I apologize, I promise to do better next time, will you accept my apology?”

An apology to be complete has to be accepted. The injured person has to experience and give in to the desire to forgive. This is unlikely to happen unless:

the apology is delivered with the proper emotional tone of sadness, sorrow, shame or regret and devoid of anger, pride or self pity.

the apology clearly states the injurious actions committed and the injured person agrees that those were the actions requiring an apology, and

the apology assumes that forgiveness may not be forthcoming and accepts that outcome if it occurs.

Apology and Begging Forgiveness.

Apologies vary from minor, everyday apologies to major begging for forgiveness. On occasion we commit acts which are so injurious that even when such actions are forgotten and their effects swept under the rug, they leave indelible scars in their victims which can only be repaired through a major apology and offer of amends. If, after thoughtful soul searching, the apology is accepted and forgiveness is granted, there may be psychic healing possible. However it is important that the injured party be free not to forgive, to postpone or to set conditions for forgiveness and reconsideration.


8. Ten Basic Emotional Literacy Transactions

* This set of emotionally literate transactions is arranged in order of difficulty. “Asking for Permission” should be used every time an emotionally literate communication is initiated. The other ten transactions are to be used when appropriate.

0. Asking for Permission: Preparing for an emotionally literate communication by asking the recipient for permission to proceed and being willing to accept a postponment.


1. Giving Strokes: Making wholly positive, truthful, non-comparative statements of recognition.

2. Taking Strokes: Asking for, accepting and giving oneself strokes. Rejecting strokes we don’t want.


3. Delivering an Action/Feeling Statement: “When you (action) I felt (feeling)” No judgments, accusations or theories. 4. 4. Accepting an Action/Feeling Statement: Non-defensive acceptance of the emotional information being given.


5. Revealing Intuitions, Empathic Perceptions or Paranoid Fantasies: Tentative presentation of an intuitive perception about another person’s feelings actions or intentions .

6. Validation of an Intuition, Empathic Perception or Paranoid Fantasy: Searching, without defensiveness, for the validating truth, however small (grain of truth) which accounts for the above intuitive impression.


7. Rectifying Lies, Rescue, Persecution or Victim Behavior:

“When I (action,):

a. I lied or did not tell you the whole truth.”

b. I Rescued you because, i) I did something I did not want to do or ii) I was, in my opinion, doing more than my share.”

c. I Persecuted you because I addressed you with anger that did not fairly belong to you.”

d. I acted as a Victim because I expected or demanded that you Rescue me.

“I apologize and will do better next time.” “Do you accept my apology?”

8. Accepting/Rejecting Rectification: Non defensive acceptance of the emotional information being given, followed by acceptance or rejection of the apology. When rejected an apology may need to be rephrased, postponed or withdrawn.


9. Apology and Begging for Forgiveness: “I apologize for (action): it was wrong and I regret having hurt you. Will you forgive me?”

10. Accepting Apology and Granting or Denying Forgiveness:: Hearing the apology and after thoughtful soul-searching, either a) granting forgiveness or, b) postponing forgiveness, pending rephrasing or additional amends.



I. Place love at the center of your emotional life. Heart-centered emotional intelligence empowers everyone it touches.

II. Love yourself, others and truth in equal parts. Never sacrifice one to the other.

III. Stand up for how you feel and what you want. If you don’t, it is not likely that anyone else will.

IV. Respect the ideas, feelings and wishes of others as much as you do your own. Respecting ideas does not mean that you have to submit to them.

V. Emotional Literacy requires that you not lie by omission or commission. Except where your safety or the safety of others is concerned, do not lie.

VI. Emotional Literacy requires that you do not power play others. Gently but firmly ask instead for what you want until you are satisfied.

VII. Do not allow yourself to be power played. Gently but firmly refuse to do anything you are not willing to do of your own free will.

IIX. Apologize and make amends for your mistakes. Nothing will make you grow faster.

IX. Do not accept false apologies. They are worth less than no apologies at all.

X. Follow these commandments according to your best judgment. After all, they are not written in stone.


(c) 1998 Claude M. Steiner PhD. 2901 Piedmont Avenue, Berkeley, 94705 USA

(510) 843 9667 FAX 848-9789  csteiner@igc.org    www.emotional-literacy.com

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Questions and Answers

Q: How do I best to deal with people who power play or lie? Respond with my own truth? If they are in a more powerful position than I am  (example: at work) this might not go over very well.

A: Truthfulness is an essential aspect of emotional literacy. One cannot develop an emotionally literate relationship without the cooperative agreement not to power play or lie.

One sidedly truthfulness when others reserve the right to lie could be a risky if high-minded tactic especially as you say when others have power over you. In an level playing field it is possible to be truthful and thereby influence others into truthfulness as well. In The Other Side of Power (Grove Press 1981) I offer a method of dealing in a cooperative way with people who power play us.

Q: To become emotionally literate takes two people acting in relationship. If one person wants to communicate in an emotionally literate way and the other person does not want to, what are the options?

A: Not many beyond pursuing an agreement to cooperate emotionally, that is: not to power play, not to lie and not to Rescue. One can always try to act in an emotionally literate manner unilaterally but in most cases that will not persuade others out of their illiterate ways.

Q: What does Emotional Literacy have to do with Emotional Intelligence?

Answer: Emotional Literacy is a form of Emotional Intelligence. There are a number of ways in which a person can be emotionally intelligent or sophisticated. Emotional Literacy is a Heart-Centered practice of emotional intelligence which results in an improvement in interpersonal relations and cooperation as well as personal well being and success. So it could be said that emotional intelligence (and emotional awareness) is part of a larger capacity called emotional literacy.

Q: What does emotional intelligence have to do with IQ and EQ?

Short Answer: The IQ test has been researched for many decades and it has proven to be a reliable test.

EQ is a rather meaningless term from the scientific point of view. There are no adequately researched EQ tests and anyone who claims to be able to give you a number that represents your EQ is perpetuating a hoax.

However due to Daniel Goleman’s book, which has become a best seller all around the world, EQ has become a widely accepted, hopeful and meaningful term. In my opinion the wide acceptance of the term represents one of those rare leaps in public consciousness which precede important society-wide changes.

Goleman never uses the term EQ in his book. The term first appeared in Time magazine’s October 2, 1995 cover in huge letters: “WHAT IS YOUR EQ?” The term “EQ” caught on like wildfire.

Goleman uses the terms “emotional literacy” and “emotional intelligence” interchangeably in his book, but recently seems to speak in terms of emotional intelligence exclusively.

Long Answer: The IQ test purports to measure a person’s native intelligence. Some disagree and argue that it is more likely to measure privilege or opportunity. Be that as it may, the IQ test has been researched for many decades and it has proven to be reliable, that is to say that it will give reliably constant readings on any one person over time. Arguably it is also a valid test, that is to say that a high IQ has been found to be correlated with success in college and graduate school and more loosely associated with good jobs, health and a long life.

EQ is a rather meaningless term from the scientific point of view. Notwithstanding that fact, so called EQ tests are increasingly being given by employers to screen potential employees. No one can legitimately claim to have a test that yields an EQ figure as does the IQ test. Daniel Goleman endorses the BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory which yields a profile of fifteen EQ factors. My impression of this test is that some of the factors are related to emotional intelligence (e.g.: Emotional self awareness, Empathy, Social responsibility)  but others are just “positive” traits  (e.g.: Assertiveness, Self regard, Independence, Optimism) not at all necessarily related to emotional intelligence. Some of the most assertive, optimistic and independent people I know are “emotional flatliners”.  I fear that the concepts of emotional intelligence and emotional literacy are being absorbed into questionably ascertainable concepts like maturity and mental health so that the valuable ideas of emotional intelligence are losing their cutting edge quality..

However at the folk level, due to Daniel Goleman’s book, which has become a best seller all around the world, EQ has become a widely accepted, hopeful and meaningful term. In my opinion the wide acceptance of the term represents a highly successful meme, a “paradigm shift,” one of those rare leaps in public consciousness which precede important society-wide changes.

Goleman never uses the term EQ in his book. How did the term come into existence? When Goleman’s book was about to be published, Time magazine (October 2, 1995) came out with a cover page in huge letters: “WHAT IS YOUR EQ?” And then in smaller type. “It’s not your IQ. Its not even a number, but emotional intelligence may be the best predictor of success in life, redefining what it means to be smart.” The term “EQ” (which Dr Reuven Bar-On claims to have coined) seems to have been taken the magazine,  a brilliant notion used to promote Goleman’s book which caught on like wildfire. That cover story set the tone and pace of the book. From then on emotional intelligence was equated with the term “EQ,” and the notion that emotional intelligence is an important human skill is on everyone’s mind.

Goleman uses the terms “emotional literacy” and “emotional intelligence” interchangeably in his book, though recently he seems to speak in terms of emotional intelligence exclusively. He borrowed the term “emotional intelligence” from Peter Salovey and John Mayer and has never acknowledged my early coining of the term emotional literacy.

Q: What is so special about emotional literacy?

Short Answer: Psychology aspires to be a science and the introspective method of studying emotions has been regarded as an unscientific approach.

Even in psychotherapy, emotions while vaguely but widely seen as essential to the process, were pushed aside in favor of more empirical, practical approaches in which emotions were seen as obstacles to the clear thinking needed to solve personal problems.

Goleman’s book based on recent renewed interest in research about emotions asserts what everyone knows. Still his main assertion, namely that “emotional intelligence may be the best predictor of success in life,” is strictly speaking not supported by the scientific evidence he provides in his book, which is at best circumstantial. Check it out.

No matter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that knowledge about the emotions is essential to an effective life, never mind what the research proves. Goleman’s great accomplishment is that he legitimized the idea across the world.

The current interest in emotions which permeates every aspect of the media these days is a reaction to the excessive reliance on the scientific and technical approaches that have characterized the twentieth century. We are now swinging away from blind faith on rationality and considering the importance of a balanced approach in which emotional factors are considered at a par with rationality and science.

Long Answer: The study and understanding of the emotions has an interesting history. In the early days of psychology the emotions were very much a core concern. They were being studied primarily through introspection. But psychology aspired to be a science and introspection was deemed an unscientific approach eventually abandoned because of its subjectivity.

In spite of the scientific neglect that followed, the emotions continued to be important, naturally, and became the stuff of psychotherapy. They were never analyzed in detail and the assumption seemed to be that troublesome emotions would normalize as therapy progressed. But even in psychotherapy emotions were pushed aside in favor of more empirical, practical approaches in which emotions were seen as obstacles to the clear thinking needed to solve personal problems.

Goleman’s book is an assertion of what everyone knew but had not been able to put into the kinds of words that will reach a mass audience. It is interesting to note that his main assertion namely that “emotional intelligence may be the best predictor of success in life,” is strictly speaking not supported by the scientific evidence he provides in his book, which is at best circumstantial. Check it out.

No matter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that knowledge about the emotions is essential to an effective life never mind what the research proves. Goleman’s great accomplishment is that he legitimized the idea by writing a book which has become a best seller in the US, China Korea, India, Latin America and all of Europe.

The fact is that our emotions are an integral aspect of our being and that they affect us at all times. I believe that the current interest in emotions which permeates every aspect of the media these days is a reaction to the excessive rationality and reliance on the scientific, pragmatic, logical and technical approaches that have characterized the twentieth century. We are now swinging away from blind faith on rationality and considering the importance of a balanced approach in which emotional factors are considered at a par with rationality and science.

Q: How is emotional literacy learned?

In my opinion people differ at birth regarding their emotional makeup. There is some scientific evidence to back up this statement in terms of differences that have been observed in newborns regarding how easily they are aroused and startled which can be explained by differing genetic, emotional makeup. It stands to reason that there would be some inherited variability in emotional makeup, and it would not be surprising if males and females differed in that respect. Some babies have stronger emotions or do not control them as effectively as others.

Eventually some people are more attuned to their own and other people’s feelings than others, I call these people empaths. On the other hand other people who I call sympaths tend to be centered in their rational, logical faculties. Both can develop into dysfunctional extremes; empaths can be so attuned to emotions (their own and other’s) that they are unable to control their behavior and wind up making self damaging decisions. Sympaths, on the other hand, can fail to respond to emotional issues to the point that they lose contact with other people and ultimately fail in their interpersonal endeavors.

For the empaths learning needs to occur in the management of emotions and their mediation and control by their rational logical faculties. For the sympaths on the other hand the learning has to occur in the area of emotional awareness, knowing their own feelings, their strength and reasons as well as the strength and reasons for other people’s feelings.

Q: What is an emotionally illiterate person like?

There are two main forms of emotional illiteracy. One, most common among men is a lack of connection with the emotional sphere. This form of emotional illiteracy is what most people think of when the speak of low EQ; a person who is emotionally insensitive, numb and lacking in empathy. While this emotional state is theoretically a handicap, it actually, in certain occupations, serves some people well and most people would prefer to be afflicted in this manner than by the other form of emotional illiteracy.

The other form of emotional illiteracy, most common among women but also, obviously, occurring in men, is an overly developed connection with the emotional response. People who are constantly flooded and possessed by their emotions having no control and being affected in their thinking by them are in this second category which is associated by most with mental illness rather than low EQ.

Q: What is an emotionally literate person like?

A: Salovey and Mayer’s original definition of EI was the ability to identify understand use and regulate emotions in life. Goleman added to his definition impulse control and empathy.

I would agree with all of these characteristics but differ in some of the emphases given them.

For instance Goleman makes a great deal out of impulse control and learning how to manage emotional highjackings. He likes to quote a study in which children who showed impulse control and succeed in staying away from marshmallows did much better in their SAT’s years later. To be sure control over the emotions is a form of emotional literacy but in my opinion that type of control should be the outcome of knowing our emotions and their causes and being able to talk about them to others in an empathetic social contract rather than simply sitting on them until they pass. Just learning to control our impulses until they go away is not nearly as effective as regulating them through understanding as they occur. It is like controlling a powerful motorcycle with the brakes rather than with the throttle and is likely to lead to the emotional hijackings which Goleman speaks of.

My approach to emotional literacy is based on the notion that the first step is to create social situations in which honest emotional discourse is welcomed and encouraged and then begin to free the guiding, master emotion which is love by Opening the Heart that is teaching people how to articulate their feeling of affection by giving asking for and accepting strokes.

Q: How do you understand naturally empathic people? Do you think of yourself as an empath? I am also interested in learning more about how to motivate people to learn empathic skills. I believe empathy is an essential factor in transforming the human race into a synergistic (peaceful) living organism.

Empathy is turning out to be the most interesting aspect of the emotional literacy issue. I agree that an empathic population is the only basis for a workable social contract. The problem is that as people become more and more attached to machines –the inevitable result of the relentless advance of technology (See Jacques Ellul: The Technological Society,)– we risk losing touch with the emotional side of our nature and we unlearn, or fail to learn, the skills of intuition and empathy. George Soros’s “open society” his alternative to “laisse faire” capitalism (See Atlantic Monthly, February 1997) which he believes is the enemy of mankind (comparable to nazism and communism before it) requires that people give up greed. To me that sounds like they will have to learn empathy first, since greed requires that we be so self absorbed that we will pursue our self interest regardless of any  harm we may cause to other living things. Only a powerful sense of empathy and can overcome greed.

For myself, alas, I am not an empath, my daughter is, and so have been a number of close acquaintances. I have had to learn every step of the way. This may be because of my early upbringing or because of genetic reasons. In any case, I have had to learn, and still have substantial lacunae regarding certain emotions like fear or shame. Because I have had to learn the hard way, I know how to learn and how to teach the skill.

How to motivate people toward empathy is a crucial question. In my program the first stage of the exercises, “Opening the Heart” will get the ball rolling. I believe we become empathic as we consciously experience and speak about our feelings and the most approachable and positive emotion is love. Hence we begin (and end) the training with the giving, asking for and accepting strokes.

The American Psychologist Association Monitor (November 1997) had an issue on empathy highlighting research by Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, Nancy Eisenberg, Janet Strayer and Richard Fabes each of who is investigating empathy separately. Their research supports a number of my conclusions; that empathy is an inherited trait and that it is best cultivated in the family but can be learned later.


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Learning Emotional Literacy; a new language of the emotions

Learning Emotional Literacy is like learning a new language. As in the case of languages, there is an optimal window of opportunity to learn emotional literacy in childhood and as in the case of languages it can be learned with increasing difficulty in maturity. In fact, learning emotional literacy is like learning a dialect of English, something like say, Ebonics.

Ebonics. uses English words but it is definitely different; different tones of voice, different combinations of words and many neologisms not found in the dictionary. These are required to express the desired meanings. Likewise with emotionally literate language a different tone of voice is used, words are combined into strange sounding sentences and a number of neologisms are used in order to communicate the desired emotional content.

If you spoke Ebonics. among the English-speaking you would be considered strange, the things you would say would often not be understood or considered foolish. Likewise with emotionally literate expression; often making no sense to the listener who might conclude that what is being said is nonsense.

If you were brought up speaking English and you learn Ebonics. as a grown up you will tend to relapse into English when under pressure. With emotional literacy those who learn it as children will be more likely to stay at an emotionally literate level of discourse than those who learned it as adults. It would be easier to speak Ebonics among Ebonics-speakers and they will find each other and speak to each other with pleasures.

The language of the emotions is required for the development of the higher levels of emotional literacy. That language eleborately deals with the exchange of strokes, with the identification of our and other people emotions and the clarification of their causes and with the expression of regret and desire for forgivance. All of thee forms of communication are foreign to the average person who will have to learn them in order to develop emotional literacy in their lives.

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