Social Intelligence and a New Science of Human Relationships

Our recent posts on this blog have put a focus on relationships and on how we enable young people to develop a better awareness of self and others. Education for improved relationships depends entirely on our ability to develop what 3Di and others call ‘social intelligence’ and ‘personal intelligence’. It also depends on the development of ’emotional literacy’ and our ability to recognise and understand our own feelings and emotions, as well as those of the people we live with, work with and come into contact with.

These sorts of fundamental learning begin at birth and continue throughout life. Schools can either facilitate this learning or disable it. Our view is that every teacher should understand his or her role in either facilitating or blocking these crucial areas of learning.

To this end we advocate the purchase of a book published by Daniel Goleman in 2006 which he called “Social Intelligence“. Goleman sub-titled this book “The New Science of Human Relationships.”

“In this book I aim to lift the curtain on an emerging science, one that almost daily reveals startling insights into our interpersonal world.

The most fundamental revelation of this new discipline: we are wired to connect.

Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain – and so the body – of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.

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To a surprising extent, then, our relationships mould not just our experience but also our biology.

That link is a double-edged sword: nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison in our bodies.

The spotlight [of this book] now shifts to those ephemeral moments that emerge as we interact. These take on deep consequence as we realise how, through their sum total, we create one another.

Our enquiry speaks to questions like . . . Can we do a better job of helping our children grow up to be happy? How can a teacher or leader enable the brains of students or workers to do their best? What helps groups riven by hatred come to live together in peace? And what do these insights suggest for the kind of society we are able to build – and for what really matters in each of our lives? 

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Today, just as science reveals how crucially important nourishing relationships are, human connections seem increasingly under siege. Social corrosion has many faces.

To the extent that technology absorbs people in a virtual reality, it deadens them to those who are actually nearby. The resulting social autism adds to the ongoing list of unintended human consequences of the continuing invasion of technology into our daily lives.

Email and cell phones penetrate essential barriers around private time and family life. The cell phone can ring on a picnic with the kids, and even at home mum or dad can be absent from the family as they diligently go through their email every evening.

Of course the kids don’t really notice – they’re fixated on their own email, a Web game, or the TV screen in their bedroom.

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The social brain is the sum of the neural mechanisms that orchestrate our interactions as well as our thoughts and feelings about people and our relationships . . . The social brain represents the only biological system in our bodies that continually attunes us to, and in turn becomes influenced by, the internal state of people we’re with . . . Whenever we connect face to face (or voice to voice, or skin to skin) with someone else, our social brains interlock.

By repeatedly driving our brain into a given register, our key relationships can gradually mold certain neural circuitry. In effect, being chronically hurt and angered, or being emotionally nourished, by someone we spend time with daily over the course of years can refashion our brain.

Thus how we connect with others has unimagined significance.

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The social responsiveness of the brain demands that we be wise, that we realise how not just our own moods but our very biology is being driven and moulded by the other people in our lives – and in turn, it demands that we take stock of how we affect other people’s emotions and biology. Indeed we can take the measure of a relationship in terms of a person’s impact on us, and ours on them.

The biological influence passing from person to person suggests a new dimension of a life well lived: conducting ourselves in ways that are beneficial even at this subtle level for those with whom we connect.

Relationships themselves take on a new meaning, and so we need to think about them in a radically different way. The implications are of more than passing theoretical interest: they compel us to reevaluate how we live our lives.

Without empathy and without social intelligence we can’t begin to develop what’s sometimes call ‘lovingkindness’.

Without emotional literacy, and without personal, social and spiritual intelligence there can be little progress towards a better society in which a high level of wellbeing is the norm. Without high levels of these intelligences there can be little human progress. Without an education system that enables young people to develop these key intelligences, as well as creativity and imagination, we have no prospect of creating a better world.

Our system tends to encourage the belief that the key to success in life is success in gaining high marks in timed tests and examinations. The truth is that the key to success in life is the development of all of our human intelligences and faculties – particularly those that enable successful relationships and connections with others.

social intelligence

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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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