A Pressing Moral Imperative and Emotional Intelligence

Today’s 3D Eye post is a development of recent thoughts on “emotional intelligence”, and a reminder of what Daniel Goleman said in his seminal book which he simply called Emotional Intelligence.

A Pressing Moral Imperative

These are times when the fabric of society seems to unravel at ever-greater speed, when selfishness, violence and a meanness of spirit seem to be rotting the goodness of our communal lives. The argument for the importance of emotional intelligence hinges on the link between sentiment, character, and moral instincts.

There is growing evidence that fundamental ethical stances in life stem from underlying emotional capacities. For one, impulse is the medium of emotion; the seed of all impulse is a feeling bursting to express itself in action. Those who are at the mercy of impulse – who lack self-control – suffer a moral deficiency: The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character.

By the same token, the root of altruism lies in empathy, the ability to read emotions in others; lacking a sense of another’s need or despair, there is no caring. And if there are any two moral stances that our times call for, they are precisely these, self-restraint and compassion.

We ought to keep in mind that when Mr Goleman wrote these words back in 1995 there had been no 9/11, no “war on terror”, no invasion of Iraq, no financial catastrophe bringing the world’s financial system to a point of collapse, no Lehman Brothers implosion, no bank and industry bailouts, and no government by George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfelt, aided and abetted by the likes of Tony Blair. We liked to believe, round about that time, that “things can only get better”. Clearly we were fooling ourselves. Since 1995 we have also seen a continuation of mass murders by crazed gunmen with grudges against “society”. Things can, and did, get a great deal worse. 1995 was also the year of the bomb in Oklahoma City that killed 168 innocent men, women and children.

Our interpretation of these words of Daniel Goleman is as follows.

Dangerous and destructive emotions stem from primitive impulses which can be characterised as “feelings bursting to express themselves in action”. The ability to control these impulses is stongly affected by the extent to which we have a clear ethical stance, a strong will, “moral instincts”, and a determination to curb “selfishness, violence and a meanness of spirit”. We must also be capable of empathy, compassion and caring for others in order to develop self-restraint or what is now commonly called “emotional intelligence”

In our view, one of the chief characteristics of a psychopath is a complete lack of these values and virtues, and a complete inability to develop any of them. Extreme psychopaths find it impossible to feel true empathy, caring for others, compassion, and what Goleman calls “sentiment” and Buddhists call “lovingkindness”. Non-psychopaths and sociopaths who, for reasons of upbringing and possibly brain structure, have low levels of these positive values and virtues, can, nevertheless, be exposed to educational and everyday experiences that can bring about significant increases in emotional intelligence, as well as the other intelligences that Goleman alludes to.

The question for us, as educationalists, is – to what extent have governments in countries such as the USA and the UK taken action to ensure that emotional intelligence is prioritised as part of our effort to educate children and young people? Our answer to that question, sadly, is that NO significant action has taken place. As ever, the concern of our governments has been almost exclusively to raise “standards” – meaning increased scores in written tests and examinations, and thereby improvement of “academic ability”.

Goleman says, on page xiii of his introductory chapter, “Childhood and adolescence are critical for setting down the essential emotional habits that will govern our lives.” We have yet to meet anyone who disagrees with this statement, but we have yet to see significant numbers of schools setting out to prioritise ALL of the essential intelligences that govern our lives, and we have yet to see the knowledge and skills necessary for bringing this about being prioritised in our teacher training programmes.


Where we take issue with Daniel Goleman is his failure in this book to distinguish between the six intelligences (or seven if we include “emotional intelligence” as opposed to “emotional literacy”) which we believe we all have within us.

In our view, the six intelligences working together in a dynamic and supportive relationship are the essential means of exercising impulse control and self-restraint, and thereby the successful management of destructive emotions.

Goleman evidently came to see “empathy” as the key component of what we now call Social Intelligence, since he produced a superb book of that title in 2006.

Spiritual Intelligence, on the other hand, informs us of the NEED to become both emotionally and socially intelligent, since the vital components of spiritual intelligence are compassion, concern for others, a feeling of altruism, a set of ethics, and a whole range of virtues that are activated by a set of positive values. (NB Goleman calls the lack of spiritual intelligence a “moral deficiency”.)

Personal Intelligence is the capacity to look within oneself, develop insight, and thereby become aware of our individual strengths, weaknesses and capabilities, especially in terms of our emotions and our capacity for social and spiritual intelligence.

These, and the other three intelligences – instinctual, physical and intellectual – have already been covered extensively in previous 3D Eye blog posts.

We believe it’s possible and indeed quite common to train young people to pass tests and examinations without necessarily developing their intellects or their ability to engage in critical thinking – let alone creative thinking. This is a huge issue that has been successfully tackled in more enlightened educational systems, but sadly not in ours.

We still have a long way to go to develop physical intelligence, which is partly the full use of all of our physical senses in order to learn and to make sense of the world, and partly the ability to take proper physical care of ourselves through good health and fitness practices.

At the present time there is virtually no understanding of instinctual intelligence and its importance to survival and wellbeing, let alone an understanding of how to systematically develop it.

As for emotional intelligence, social intelligence and spiritual intelligence, the time has long passed to make a start on seriously making them the central concern of all our schools and places of learning.






emotional int Goleman

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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