According to social science researcher Brene’ Brown, empathy is a skill set, the core of which is perspective taking. Along those lines, Brown says the following:
“Perspective taking is normally taught or modeled by parents. The more your perspective is in line with the dominant culture, the less you were probably taught about perspective taking. In the United States, the majority culture is white, Judeo-Christian, middle class, educated, and straight.”
In her book The Reflective Parent: How to Do Less and Relate More with Your Kids, psychiatrist, founder and co-director of the Center for Reflective Communities, Regina Pally, says the following:
“The ability to be reflective is essential for relating well to others, because it enables us to try to see the world from the other person’s perspective as well as our own and to accept that there is always more than one way to view a situation….
Our sociable human nature does not necessarily mean being outgoing and gregarious. It means being able to engage with and relate to other people. It is not about the numbers of people you engage with; it is about how you relate, in terms of empathizing, being cooperative, and considering other people’s point of view….
People will go into a burning building to rescue another person. Less heroic forms of moral behavior occur daily as we avoid bumping into people and try not to hurt their feelings. Morality and moral decision-making involve some degree of rational thinking, but for the most part involve the ability to feel the emotions and distress of others (Keysers, 2011). Much of our moral behavior relates to preventing pain in others and relies on the brain’s shared circuitry for pain and emotional distress…. [P]art of teaching children to be moral and inhibit their hurtful or selfish impulses involves helping them be aware of and feel the hurtfulness their own behavior can cause others….
We know children are not born with the ability to think reflectively because they do not have a mature mentalization system. They are born only with the ability to learn how to think reflectively. And they learn how only if they are related to in a reflective manner by people who are reflective thinkers.”
On August 20, 2017, Psychology Today published an article of mine titled Mind the Gap: What life experiences have led you to feel the way you do?, in which I discussed the different aspects of the dominant culture.
Since then, and even prior to then, it has been incredibly painful witnessing the consequences stemming from that lack of perspective taking by the members of our society who fall within the dominant culture. It has led to a great deal of conflict that exists in our society today. And, what has made the situation so much worse is that because of this lack of perspective taking, many within the dominant culture sincerely believe that they are under attack – that they are the ones being discriminated against.
What straight, white (as defined by white supremacists) Christians sincerely believe to be discrimination against them is actually self-inflicted. Being members of the dominant culture, they are far less likely to have been taught perspective taking, as Dr. Brown has found.
I have no doubt that my assessment will not be well-received and will be denied, which is terribly unfortunate. After all, self-awareness is not only one of the twelve components of emotional intelligence, but according to Daniel Goleman, it is “the foundation of emotional intelligence.”
On April 5, 2018, I attended a program by Ronda Muir at the 2018 ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Spring Conference titled Beyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence—A Critical Edge in Challenging Times. The program was described as follows:
“Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize, understand and regulate our own and others’ emotions. Industries worldwide have incorporated EI into their hiring, training and leadership programs to maximize performance. In contrast, the legal community has given little notice to the role of emotions. This newly released book from the DR Section Discusses EI for the first time in the unique context of practicing law. Muir identifies the many advantages of EI to individuals and law practices in these challenging times, how to determine your emotional intelligence, and the steps that raise individual and workplace EI.”
During her program, Muir shared a slide titled Awareness of Our Own and Others’ Emotions and explained how this impacts all other aspects of emotional intelligence. She also mentioned that lawyers tend to score the lowest in this particular aspect.
In her article titled Self-Awareness: Building Healthy Children, Jinnie Cristerna states as follows:
“Self-awareness is the fundamental cornerstone for early development and involves knowing what fuels your desires, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, and connecting fully to your emotions. The more self-aware we are, the more control we can affect over our lives and the greater responsibility we take for our choices and actions.”
Self-awareness and empathy [toward others] are just two of the twelve aspects of emotional intelligence. And, without sufficient self-awareness, you can’t have empathy toward others.
Travis Bradberry explains the importance of emotional intelligence as follows:
“ When emotional intelligence first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time.”
And, that’s not all. Adaptability, resilience and coping skills are all related to emotional intelligence.
Allow me to share some recent commentary from two licensed mental health professionals I know and respect.
Internationally known social worker and speaker, Gary Direnfeld said the following:
“I see straight, white (as defined by white supremacists), Christian boys/men raised with entitlement and limited expectations and limit setting. I have an increase in referrals where these issues are at play. Have had zero referrals for this kind of problem for non-white males and I see folks across all ethnicities/cultures. The new ‘might’ is emotional capacity.”
Psychologist, Martin Hsia said the following:
“I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with friends (I’m thinking particularly of Asian American women) who are extremely disillusioned with white feminist women – who as you mention, can seem very ‘progressive’ in their fight for gender equality, but really only in so far as it serves them, and don’t care much for sexual and/or ethnic minorities – and at worse, willfully so as a way to wedge momentum for their own ends.
Intersectionality is so complex, yet so important e.g. to see how people of color need white allies, women need feminist male allies, sexual minorities need straight allies, etc. etc. etc. and any one person can represent such a multitude of diversity, privilege or lack thereof that puts them at an advantage or disadvantage.”
There are reasons why mass shooters tend to be straight, white (as defined by white supremacists), Christian males. Those reasons center around low levels of emotional intelligence. And, the relatively lower level of emotional intelligence also explains why they have difficulty competing in the marketplace with a level playing field.
In other words, the same people angered by what they sincerely believe to be discrimination against them are directly responsible for a great deal of our societal conflict, blame those they harm because of their own low levels of emotional intelligence, elect Trump and his ilk to eliminate civil rights for those who fall outside of certain aspects of the dominant culture, thereby further escalating the conflict through oppression of historically marginalized groups.
What’s so tragic is that they are the cause of the problem and only they hold the key to the solution, which doesn’t involve finger-pointing; rather, it involves a reality check.
Many people have written about what they refer to as toxic masculinity. Interestingly enough, there is an inverse correlation between toxic masculinity and emotional intelligence.
The same thing responsible for the majority of mass shootings is also responsible for Trumpian politics — a severe deficit in emotional intelligence. You can’t solve problems, the cause of which you fail to undertand.
The good news is that each of the twelve competencies that comprise emotional intelligence are skills that can be learned. The bad news is that the work involved in developing such skills is very similar to that which is required to change our habits. Consider just how many New Years Resolutions stick, before assuming that developing such skills is any simple feat.
The question is why this particular segment of the population, as a whole, hasn’t developed such skills. The answer involves self-selection, otherwise known as being willfully uninformed, also known as deliberate ignorance.
While attending the above-referenced conference, one of the issues that was consistently brought up was how to package information so as to reach those who are not interested in the very information they really need to learn. For example, attendance in programs related to civil rights issues tend to be filled with students who fall within groups that either have civil rights or are fighting for them. In other words, members of the dominant culture – straight, white (as defined by white supremacists), Christian males aren’t typically interested. Furthermore, neither are the same demographic of females, unless it is specifically pertaining to women’s rights.
The sad reality is that those most needing to learn such things are the same people who self-select not to learn them.
I don’t see this pattern changing any time in the foreseeable future, while they’re busy calling the victims of their abuse “snowflakes” because they complain about being abused. It’s blame the victim mentality and it’s an example of the pot calling the kettle black. After all, the term “snowflake” actually applies to those with poor resilience and coping mechanisms.
The saying “ignorance is bliss” is incredibly true because it’s not in the least bit blissful seeing such realities and being on the receiving end of their abusive words and actions. It’s excruciatingly painful understanding the cause and effect and feeling so incredibly helpless because admission is the first step to recovery and those responsible are unable or unwilling to take that first step. With all due respect, if those who fall within the dominant culture made a concerted effort to raise their emotional intelligence, they would solve the problems they mischaracterize as discrimination against them.
For those interested in receiving a measurement of their emotional intelligence, the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence-Test (MSCEIT) is considered “the Gold Standard for ability-based measurement of your emotional intelligence.” Consider what Dan Defoe stated in his article Important Notice to Lawyers: The MSCEIT Emotional Intelligence Test Will Not Show That You Are “Crazy”, which was as follows:
“Consider beginning your growth journey and explore emotional intelligence in your life, your practice, and your career. One of your first steps should include an emotional intelligence assessment and confidential feedback from a qualified practitioner.”
Unfortunately, the MSCEIT test is not available for free. However, an emotional intelligence test is available online through Psychology Today. “After finishing this test you will receive a FREE snapshot report with a summary evaluation and graph. You will then have the option to purchase the full results for $9.95.”
In addition, the Mood Reader mobile app helps people to develop self-awareness. The site for the Mood Read app states as follows:
” A gift of self awareness for yourself, and for others. Based on decades of research from Yale. Tell you Mood Meter mobil app how you feel and build emotional intelligence that lasts a lifetime. Expand you emotional vocabulary: Discover the nuances in your feelings. Gain insights about your inner life: Learn what’s causing your feelings over time. Regulate your feelings: Use strategies to regulate your feelings – enhance how you manage your life. Remember to check in with yourself: Use reminders to check-in on your feelings throughout the day. View your report: Learn how your feelings are affecting your decisions, relationships, and performance. Over time, you’ll develop emotional intelligence skills that can help you in all areas of your life.”
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