The childhood of the American Marc Brackett (New Jersey), 52 years old despite his boyish appearance, was a hell from which he never thought he would get out: he suffered sexual abuse from a neighbor, school bullying and bulimia, and at home he did not find rest, because his mother was depressed and had a drinking problem and his father was aggressive. “The language of feelings was unknown to me,” he says. For this reason, he “blesses” every day that his uncle Marvin, a teacher convinced that emotions are the missing link in education, took an intelligence test on him – he turned out to be smarter than his grades said – and asked him: “Marc, how are you feeling?” Brackett, who founded the Yale University Center for Emotional Intelligence in 2003, has dedicated the book to Marvin Permission to feel (published in Spanish by Diana, in 2020) and, based on the principles of her uncle, creates methods for them to learn to manage emotions from preschoolers to company directors.
This professor of Psychology at Yale – the university where the concept of emotional intelligence was published for the first time, in 1990 – spoke about affective abilities in the WISE forum of the Qatar Foundation – to which this newspaper was invited by the organization – in a moment of authentic emergence of their learning. The pandemic has focused on the mental problems of the population and in Spain the management of emotions is part of the Celaá law.
Ask. With the pandemic, has it come time for emotional intelligence?
Answer. There are parents at Zoom who tell me: “Marc, I hadn’t thought about it, but now that I’m working at home, that my children are using technology, that I make food and this and that… I need help with my feelings! ”. And I ask myself: Are we facing a crisis? It is an opportunity for people to take their lives seriously.
I need to know that I am disappointed to ask for help
P. In Permission to feel states that parents and teachers should know their feelings before teaching children.
R. That is why I say that the pandemic is an opportunity for parents to not only care about their children, but about them. You can’t teach your child emotional intelligence if you don’t know yourself. How can you not teach him to read if you do not know.
P. Why is it so important that children get to know each other in order to learn?
R. Emotional awareness is a human right. I cannot communicate my needs if I cannot communicate my feelings. I need to know that I am disappointed to ask for help or that I am angry because someone is mistreating me.
P. And what advantages are achieved with emotional education?
R. We are talking about five achievements: you are a better learner, you make better decisions, you can better build and maintain social relationships, you have better physical and mental health, and you can build strategies to achieve your dreams.
The part of the brain that learns emotional skills can develop at any age
P. In a Spanish community, the Canary Islands, it was decided to cut hours of mathematics to give them to emotional education and the measure was controversial at first.
R. Perfect! You can’t do anything without emotional education. I was a failed student and now I am a university professor. My IQ is pretty good, but as a kid I was so concerned about my safety that I was terrible at school. Now I look back and say to myself: how was it possible that neither my parents nor my teachers caught my expressions, my body language? My brain was used to survive, not to learn. Luckily my uncle, my hero, gave me permission to feel. He listened to me and encouraged me. Blessed that someone realized what was happening.
P. Is it difficult to get to know yourself when you are an adult?
R. There are good news. The part of the brain that learns emotional skills can be developed at any age, and that can be liberating and hopeful for people. You can still learn those skills. The best example is my 78-year-old father, who never had an emotional upbringing. His new wife told me: “Your father is always angry.” She was spending a lot of time with her grandchildren and he felt blocked. I explained to him: “Dad, it seems to me that what you are is jealous of.” “What do you mean I’m jealous?” He replied. “Well, you’re telling me that you feel angry when your wife spends more time with her grandchildren than with you,” I replied. And he started crying: “Are you telling me I’m jealous?” And I: “No, you are telling me that. I have only verbalized it ”. That day my father changed his behavior, he realized that no one could do anything for him.
P. In his presentation he has shown a color chart to evaluate emotions.
R. The emotional meter![dice en español] Being able to name the emotions is very important. For example, if I say to you: what is the difference between stress and anxiety?
P. I don’t know, maybe anxiety has physical consequences.
R. Stress comes when we have many demands, we want to reach all of them and we don’t have the resources. And anxiety arises when we are uncertain about the future. Why is it important to distinguish between them? Most parents and teachers believe that anxiety and stress are the same, both bad, but they are very different. I get letters from people in their 60s, 70s … who say to me: “Oh my God, I’m starting to understand my feelings!”
We know that how we feel influences how we interact
P. But you think stress and anger can be good too.
R. Good stress leads people to challenge and work hard to achieve it, but the line to bad stress is fine. It all depends on the perception of each one, not on reality. I participate in many public events and sometimes I say to myself “again …”. But I breathe, I remove negative stress, and I think that I can teach my work to people from many countries and that is wonderful.
P. In the talks, do you think he is eccentric or interesting?
R. A mix. It is a complicated job because you evaluate feelings, it is not an experiment that you control in the laboratory. But I have several mentors who have introduced the idea of emotional intelligence. [el psicólogo y rector de Yale Peter Salovey y Jack Mayer, de la Universidad de New Hampshire] and now I focus on education.
P. Can’t it be tiring to ask your students how they feel all the time?
R. It’s my job and I don’t like to be talking about my feelings all the time. It would be crazy to know how you are doing every minute, but twice a day – when I go to the office, after lunch, or when I come back – is a good thing. Because we know that how we feel influences how we interact.
P. In their workshops, teachers cry when they realize that they treat each child differently, with favoritism. What do you have to do?
R. People are looking for the correct answer and there is none. Everyone has to build strategies for their circumstances, for themselves. Telling teachers before the workshop “go for it” does not make any sense. It is comforting to know that they don’t have to know the answers. This is not about evaluating with an A, B or a C, but about teaching children strategies and having them evaluate which ones work for them.
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