Intelligence, emotional or otherwise

In common discourse we separate the emotional from the intellectual, as in, “He’s brilliant, but he can’t have a regular conversation (the “lonely genius” syndrome, so to speak). A dichotomy was introduced with “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ” written by Daniel Goleman, in which the term “EQ” was coined, reassuring millions of people in the world that they, too, had a form of intelligence that had value, even if it didn’t mean book learning or school success. From this distinction – which incidentally was inspired by Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory – have emerged discussions about marital compatibility, daily meditations, writings on disability, and workplace communication, among others.

Like MI theory, the EQ theory is problematic for me. (Vis-à-vis Gardner’s work, I have posted one of my papers from my Applied Linguistics MA program entitled “Analysis and Critique of the Multiple Intelligences Theory as a Pedagogical Approach and Educational Method” on this blog for further explanation.) I take issue with the fact that, as in so much of academic thinking, the attractiveness of creating clear boxes for certain components of human existence prevents a conceptualization of what I believe is a much more fluid and dynamic relationship between human feelings and human thinking. While Aristotelian in origin, the process of categorization severely limits both individual interpretation and appropriation of an idea, as well as the possibility for mutuality; though we could say that categories like “cat” and “dog” are conventionally agreed upon based on physical evidence, how do we make such clear distinctions about cognitive and socioaffective changes in the brain, especially as one person’s ways of making meaning and creating society with others differs from her neighbor?


I think there is common ground between the intellectual and emotional life we all have within us, in no small part because both involve a primary imperative in being human: our need to be seen, to be validated. When we are understood, and understand each others – by whatever emotional or intellectual means necessary – we build social connections, relationships with people that lay the ground work for future intimacy and safety in our constantly changing environment. And if I discuss my feelings, I am still using cognitive processes that include language, memory, engagement with one’s theories about the world, etc.; likewise, if I speak with another person about the philosophy of John Locke, this creation of human connection, of kinship, however temporary, is an emotional bridge that crosses the gulf between us and reassures me that I exist.

Both “intelligences,” if we can even call them that, may be strategic, used to create or change social environments, and both may differ not only from person to person but from situation to situation (recall, if you will, a time when you spoke with intelligence or sensitive insight when comfortable; in contrast, you’ll also remember a time of stuttering or speaking wrongly in less reassuring company). Such a few, I guess, makes me a socioculturalist. At best, one might be able develop certain skills that fall on either the more emotional or more intellectual end of the spectrum…but even there, I feel uncertain about making distinctions. In terms of how we interact socially, the two are very much inextricably woven into our ways of thinking and ways of being.

I suppose I’m challenging the social norms laid out for us to assume, like the belief that women are more intuitive and nurturing, and men are more analytical and logical. Such norms are culturally bounded and can change over time. The more we embrace such a possibility, the sooner we can allow ourselves a fuller range of experience as human beings that think and feel all at the same time.


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