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The Limits of EQ

How the ways of the heart impact each and every one of us


Dissent, dismantling assumptions, and deep listening to one other, especially when our viewpoints differ or are distinct, has never been more important than now, as we pave new emotional pathways through the pandemic. It’s a crucial time when each one of us, coast to coast to coast to coast, is invited to question our certainties, privileges, and assumptions. And, so, let’s take the opportunity to dive deeper into some of the limitations of emotional intelligence (EQ). Seán Carson Kinsella (they/he), director, the Eighth Fire at Centennial College, who identifies as Two Spirit/queer/aayahkwew êkâ ê-akimiht nêhiyaw/otipemisiwak/Nakawé/Irish, helps to illuminate the ways in which “emotional intelligence”—as an idea, a measurement, and an assumption—falls short. “I think, conceptually, EQ is based in whiteness,” explains Kinsella. As a society, there is a conversation or need around “reintroducing concepts of self-awareness and empathy.” Yet, there have been worldviews centred on exactly this—self-awareness and empathy—that have “been decimated by settler colonialism.” Learning to be self-aware and empathic isn’t a new concept. And, says Kinsella, “the kinds of notions that are contained in EQ are what we would historically have considered being a good relative, or human, (the notion of ‘wâkôtowin’) who is capable of making choices.” EQ, as a practice, explains Kinsella, would have been developed in relationship to one’s family and community. “What is identified in EQ are skills, and therefore can be learned over time and with the right models for how to integrate the knowledge from older folks,” and, Kinsella points out, this is “why grandparents and older relatives have traditionally been so important.” The limits of EQ don’t end with it as a model or conception, but also lie in how it is measured. Indeed, as Kinsella makes clear, the scales used to determine EQ are “based in cultural assumptions” and biases, and, as such, must bring caution to so-called measurements of emotional intelligence. Another critical aspect is how emotion itself is considered or even defined. Kinsella points out that “EQ is very much based in neurotypical definitions of emotion,” excluding all kinds of ways people feel and express emotions. Kinsella gives examples like active versus passive communication patterns. “So, what one individual’s baseline of EQ is,” Kinsella says, “might be very dependent on what someone’s brain structure looks like, and there is a ton of assumptions around scales of development. “These, too, are rooted in privileging white, male, cisgendered, neurotypical, abled bodies. There is a lot more work needed on not making assumptions around things like emotional regulation.”

To learn more, read "Wisdom of the Heart" by Deena Kara Schaffer in the June 2021 issue of alive Magazine.


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