Soccer, Suicide and EI
As you may know, I am
currently living in Argentina. In a city called Salta.
You may also know that Argentina has sent a soccer team
to Germany to represent them in what is called the World
Cup, or El Mundial in Spanish. You may also
know that the vast majority of the people here in
Argentina call themselves Catholics, since
Argentina was one of the many countries conquered by the
Spanish several hundred years ago, and thus had the
Catholic religion imposed upon them. You might not know,
though, that Salta has one of the highest teen suicide
rates in Argentina and that in almost every high school
here a teen has killed themselves in the past two years,
and that it is a near certainty that there will be
another teen suicide in the next few months. That is a
little background for the rest of this article.
Last week I had a chance to visit two high schools here
in Salta. The schools were filled with the air of
excitement because something called the World
Cup games were starting. In the first school I
visited, a special school for the arts, one of the
teachers told the students to design something to support
the soccer team. Like most students around the world,
they did as they were told to do and each created a page
to go on this poster.
Later in the week I
visited another school to help with the English classes.
The students in both schools asked me if I liked soccer.
I told them no. They were all shocked. I asked them if
they would like to know why. They said yes. So I
explained that with all the problems in the world I
thought we could be doing something better with our time
and money. I told them particularly here in Salta we
could be trying to prevent the next teen suicide instead
of watching some people kick a ball around.
In one class I asked them what they thought was more
important: preventing the next teen suicide or watching
to see who won the games The consensus was that it was
more important to try to prevent the next suicide. What
are their teachers telling them, though? And what about
the directors in most schools around the world? And what
about the political leaders?
I asked the students in one class how many assignments
they have had to investigate the causes of teen suicide
or to try to prevent it. The answer was zero.
So one of the goals of this article is to prompt you
think about what the priorities are in a school and in a
society, and who sets them? Do we listen to the teachers,
politicians and school directors
or the students?
I have consistently found in all countries around the
world which I have visited, that when they are well
informed, students will often make better, ie healthier
and more rational, choices about priorities than those
who responsible for teaching and raising them.
Another goal of this article is to tie this example of
soccer and suicide to the Mayer, Salovey, Caruso
definition of emotional intelligence. The connection is
conformity and pain. What I mean is that it is easier and
less painful to conform. If everyone around you calls
themselves a Catholic, waves the flag and cheers for the
national soccer team, then your life will be easier if
you do, too.
But does that really mean you will be more emotionally
intelligent? And does it mean the world will be a better
place? And if emotional intelligence as
defined by Mayer, Salovey and Caruso isnt going to
help make the world a better place, should we adopt their
definition of the concept?
And what about the lone high school student who
doesnt call herself a Catholic, who doesnt
wave the flag and doesnt believe winning the World
Cup is important? How is that person likely to feel?
Alone perhaps? Unsupported? Not understood? Ostracized?
Rejected? Different? Out of place? Pressured to conform?
Mocked? Laughed at?
Are these the kinds of feelings which could contribute to
I believe they are. And I dont believe Mayer,
Salovey and Caruso when they say that suicide and
self-destructive behavior is an indication of or a result
of low emotional intelligence. I believe instead that is
is probably the most emotionally intelligent person who
thinks about the world using their feelings as a guide.
And that this person feels pain when they see what
everyone else around them is doing. If everyone keeps
telling them to stop thinking so much, to enjoy life,
join the crowd and cheer for the soccer team, the pain of
isolation and non-conformity builds and builds.
When the pain gets too great, suicide begins to look like
the only way to stop it.
This is what Mayer, Salovey and Caruso dont seem to
understand and why I urge other researchers to develop a
better definition of emotional intelligence, and better
tests of it.
On this site I also offer my own personal definition of
EI, one which views EI more as an innate potential and
not as a set of learned skills which depend largely on
June 12, 2006