An Emotional Education - The school of life
How much do I want to read more? 8/10
Like it much. Put the self-help movement in perspective. It's fresh.
We are not individually much cleverer than the average animal, a heron or a mole, but the knack of our species lies in our capacity to transmit our accumulated knowledge down the generations. The slowest among us can, in a few hours, pick up ideas that it took a few rare geniuses a lifetime to acquire.
The assumption is that emotional insight might be either unnecessary or in essence unteachable. We are left to find our own path around our minds. suggesting that each generation should rediscover the laws of physics by themselves.
We are as clever with our machines and technologies as we are simple-minded in the management of our emotions.
There is mathematical intelligence and culinary intelligence, intelligence around literature and intelligence towards animals. What is certain is that there is no such thing as an intelligent person per se – and probably no entirely dumb one either. We are all astonishingly capable of messing up our lives, whatever the prestige of our university degrees, and are never beyond making a sincere contribution, however unorthodox our qualifications.
The emotionally intelligent person knows that love is a skill, not a feeling, and will require trust, vulnerability, generosity, humour, sexual understanding and selective resignation.
For most of human history, emotional intelligence was – broadly – in the hands of religions. It was they that talked with greatest authority about ethics, meaning, community and purpose. It was they that offered to instruct us in how to live, love and die well. Religions were natural points of reference at times of personal crisis; in agony, one generally called first for the priest.
When belief went into decline in north-western Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century, many commentators wondered where humanity would – in an increasingly secular future – find the guidance that religions had once provided. Where would ethical counsel come from? How would self-understanding be achieved? What would determine our sense of purpose? To whom would we turn in despair?
One answer – hesitantly and then increasingly boldly articulated – came to the fore: culture. Culture could replace scripture.
With this idea in mind, an unparalleled investment in culture followed in many ever-less faithful nations. Vast numbers of libraries, concert halls, university humanities departments and museums were constructed around the world with the conscious intention of filling the chasm left by religion.
Ancient Greek and Roman culture recognized and honoured our needs with greater dignity. The noblest minds – Aristotle, Epicurus, Cicero, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius – all turned their hands to what were unmistakably works of self-help.
Michel de Montaigne’s Essays (1580) amounted to a practical compendium of advice on helping us to know our fickle minds, find purpose, connect meaningfully with others.
Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913) was, with equally practical ambition, a self-help book intent on delineating the most sincere and intelligent way that we might stop squandering and start to appreciate our too brief lives.
emotional growth still continues.
These quiet but very real milestones don’t get marked. We’re not given a cake or a present to mark the moment of growth.
No one cares or even knows how caring might work. But inside, privately, we might harbour a muffled hope that some of our evolutions will be properly prized.