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Emotional Intelligence, Obedience and Education

"It Doesn't Take Much Emotional Intelligence to Obey" S. Hein

If everything else were equal between two people, would the more emotionally intelligent person also be more obedient?

This is a question I have often pondered. Today I was thinking about it again after I had a discussion with two future English teachers. We were talking about classroom management, respect, fear and obedience. For example, when the English teacher says "Open your books to page 21" what would motivate some students to obey her and others not to?

A teacher has a certain kind of authority and power over the students. But what is this based on in the ideal learning environment as compared to a typical classroom in your own country? I personally would much rather have students obey me because they respect me and trust me than because they fear me. And I believe this form of authority makes for a better learning environment as well.

Then I was thinking of different situations in which one person gives orders or instructions and another obeys. For example, in the surgery room when the surgeon says "Hand me the scalpel." He doesn't say "How would you feel about handing me the scalpel now?" Although I am a great believer in asking people how they feel about things, I wouldn't go so far as to say the surgeon should ask this question each time he wants something while operating.

So why does an operating room assistant obey the instructions and commands of the surgeon? And why would he or she in the most ideal world?

Briefly I would say we do what others tell us to do either because of either basic fear of disobeying them, or for a multitude of other reasons. I personally believe further that society works better when we do things for reasons other than the fear of being punished for not doing them. As suggested above, these reasons could include because we respect someone, because we admire them, because we trust them, because we love them, because we care about them, and because we want to help them. When they tell us to do something which they believe is in our own best interests, we mostly likely obey them because we trust them. For example, if a doctor says "Take these pills twice a day" and we do, then it is likely because we trust him to know what is best for us.

This leads us back to the classroom. If a teacher says "Read this book" and we are not afraid of being punished if we don't it, then one of the reasons we might do as she says is because we trust her to tell us to read books which are truly helpful to us. We might trust her based on a kind of "blind faith" in teachers, or we might trust her for another reason, one which I would call a "better" reason. That "better" reason might be because she has earned our trust.

I have often said that a teacher needs to earn the respect of the students, and that respect can not be demanded. Obedience can be demanded, but not respect. Therefore I would say that one of the first tasks of a teacher is to earn the trust of his or her students.

Now let's return to the question of two people equal in all ways with the exception that one is more emotionally intelligent. Let's say they are students in a highschool class. Now let's imagine that their teacher has failed to show that she is worthy of trust and respect. Then one day our two almost equal students witness a third student putting a spider in the teacher's desk. Then later the teacher demands to know who put the spider in her desk.

If everything else is equal between the two students, will the more emotionally intelligent student speak up and identify the third student? Or will the more emotionally intelligent person remain silent?

Let me know what you think.

Dec 14, 2006


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