In our high-tech lives with phones distracting us and algorithms reading us, we realize that we are being manipulated by AI, by artificial intelligence. But what of the role of EI, our emotional intelligence? AI can help us organize a social movement; can EI give us the tools to build that movement and bring it across the goal line to success?
EI is the variable in research on mediation and outcomes that can mark the difference between success and failure. Learning to appraise our own and others' emotions, say researchers Michael Boland and William Ross (2010), gives us the edge.
In the field, when we are demonstrating our numbers and opinions, emotions can run high. If they spill over into dysfunctional expressions--dehumanizing, labeling, foaming rage and even violence--our movements can appear irrational, dangerous, and in need of control. If we can control our own movement and instead evince emotions that evoke empathy and resonance, we gain in public acceptance and participation. We make police look irrelevant at best, or positively unwelcome if they misbehave--rather than excused for misbehavior if our movement seems out of control.
Hence the need for peace teams with high EI, able to help the movement maintain control of the narrative by de-escalating or redirecting those who cannot manage to get a grip on their emotions in any adaptive manner.
Can EI be learned?
Speaking personally, EI is not my natural gift. I'm just an old hockey player from Minnesota who was trained in young to react with an adversarial, zero-sum approach to life in general. What my teachers made me realize, as I slowly entered the world of nonviolent social struggle, is that I can overcome my deficits by focus, by centering, by calmative self-talk. Sadly, for someone as pre-loaded as I am, I have to start afresh every time. Happily, I know I can get there. This is what makes me confident in the power of EI and nonviolence. My profound flaws can be overcome and so I am convinced anyone's can. We can reduce defensiveness, promote and provide empathy, and decrease hostility, all products of EI and all good for neutralizing threats to our movements.
I love working with folks who seem centered pretty much all the time, with an extremely high EIQ, so to speak, like being influenced by Gandhis and Kings. They are rare and we pretty much all love them. What I realize is that I can get there with preparation and for limited periods before backsliding to my natural low-EI condition. This is why I see so much hope in our ability to defuse hot rising conflict that imperils our campaigns.
Boland, Michael J., and William H. Ross. 2010. "Emotional Intelligence and Dispute Mediation in Escalating and De-Escalating Situations." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 40, no. 12: 3059-3105. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 8, 2014).