Whitener talks like an android, but it doesn't detract too much from the audiobook.
Before embarking on his gargantuan research project (which includes several meta-analyses and decades of research, galloped along by recent advances in brain imaging technology) Daniel Goleman writes a compelling and convincing case, eschewing jargon and esoteric terminology for a more humanistic and compassionate argument. He was not overreacting when he saw American society looming towards a cliff of violence, signs of which included school shootings. All over the world, children are doing worse on matters of emotional literacy and acumen. This, combined with a natural tendency towards aggression in some children, puts them at risk of precipitating the next Columbine massacre. More and more children exhibit signs of depression, secrecy, isolation, delinquency, drug use and violent tendencies.
The book does begins with a look at the amygdala (which is the seat of basic emotions and instinct), hypothalamus (which controls involuntary movements and produces hormones) and the neocortex, which is most developed in humans and allows us to reason deeply and profoundly, to the extent of having thoughts and feelings about our thoughts and feelings.
A gruesome and tragic emotional hijacking sets the stage for the importance of research into identifying and solving problems wrought by mismanaged impulses. After all, the word "emotion" comes from the Greek word meaning "to move." Our emotions have an almost ironclad hold on us.
While IQ was traditionally thought of as the crucial and all-encompassing ingredient of success, Project Spectrum has turned this finding on its head, with its research into multiple intelligences including leadership and social awareness. This can be observed in children in elementary school and is a better predictor of future success than IQ. For instance, a young girl who knows how to pair her classmates into best friend groupings and identify their favourite toys has the talents for negotiation and peaceful conflict resolution. The foundational pillars of empathy can be seen at work.
Mastering a musical instrument or honing one's natural gift for tennis or any other sport depends, more than anything else, on a child's desire to excel. Parents who push their own selfish aspirations onto their offspring will only foster bitterness, frustration and resentment in their children. The marshmallow restraint test, conducted on young children and followed-up decades later in life, proved an excellent predictor of self-control (which also happens to be one of the key components of learning HOW to learn).
Conversely, child rapists and sociopaths have no connections or concern for others, and as such, become glib liars and are adept at making up horrific justifications for their ghoulish and barbaric deeds. These emotional cavemen seem to be impervious to psychotherapy at present.
Dedicating oneself to charity work was shown to be an excellent remedy for anxiety and stress, but was also one of the least utilised options that was used by participants in studies. SEL classes offer hope to change this for the better in the future, and countries such as Singapore have already begun such programs. As anxiety and stress (disproportionate pressure and worry) can lead to an early death, there is a strong incentive for even adults to change their behaviour. A decade before Barbara Ehrenreich revealed the defeatism and victim-blaming that Norman Vincent Peale-style positive thinking can engender. Realism, compassion and companionship are far more crucial. Simply having someone with you who is willing to help shoulder one's burdens can even reduce repeat heart attacks and extend the lives of cancer patients.
Relationships at work and in love are more similar than we might think, and something as simple as listening, repeating the other party's concerns, and taking breaks when necessary can prevent minor spats from exploding into divorce, termination of employment, or worse. And, as one could expect, parents who arbitrarily and randomly punish their children encourage their kids to emulate such behaviour (which can be seen even in young toddlers), become bullies, and link punishment to getting caught rather than hurting others. This emulation-instinct is so powerful that it can and will override a toddler's natural empathy, which, under normal circumstances, prevent them from continuing to clobber a child who is already hurt and whimpering.
Counterintuitively, playing games such as "Purdy", where children re-enacted a school shooting (the perpetrator was named Purdy) can help them deal with trauma by exerting imagined control over a gruesome situation. Some Holocaust survivors were also observed to have recovered, at least in part, from the ever-present images of the terror and atrocities they experienced and witnessed. Therapy can give the individual control over their fears and traumas to the degree that they will never be held captive to them again.
The book concludes with a hopeful look at the future and the possible fruits of research into brain plasticity and the promises of new technology. I wish Goleman and his research crew all the best in their endeavours.
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