Emotional Intelligence | Stevehein.com

Schools, 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 isn’t 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 doesn’t call herself a Catholic, who doesn’t wave the flag and doesn’t 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 suicide?

I believe they are. And I don’t 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 don’t 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 one’s environment.

S. Hein
Salta, Argentina
June 12, 2006