Emotions: An Exercise and a Tool

continents

Continents of Emotion

Emotional intelligence has been a major buzz word the last few years. Deservedly so; in this highly polarized world of ours emotional intelligence might be more valuable than just about any other intelligence. Obviously, interculturally competent people need to have emotional intelligence. We need to be able to understand why we respond the way we do, and channel our emotions in constructive ways. We need to be able to not get upset just because someone else does, and remain committed over the long term.

It has long interested me, then, since emotions are so important to our happiness and success in life, why we don’t we, as average people, know more about them? How many words for different emotions can you list? Happy, sad, joyful, loving, aggravated… Take a moment to try it and see.

  1. Make a list of terms for different emotions. Capture quickly as many as you can.
  2. Organize the words you listed into major categories of human emotion, and give each of the categories a name.
  3. Rank the words you’ve listed within each category in order of intensity.
  4. Finally, link the categories of emotions to the behaviors they can motivate.

Now ask your family members, friends, or team members to do the same. My guess is you’ll find some key commonalties and some significant differences. Definitely you will be able to have a fruitful discussion about emotions and how they are interpreted and expressed across your various cultural groups.

The exercise above emerged after I came upon a resource some months ago that I have found useful in helping me reflect on and distinguish the emotions in my life. It’s called the Atlas of Emotions, and it’s a free online tool.

The tool begins with five “Continents of Emotion:” Sadness, Fear, Enjoyment, Anger, and Disgust. I must say, I don’t like the ratio of four out of five negative emotions, but… Clicking on any continent tells you a core motivator of that emotion.

Next you can go into “States of Emotion;” there are many states for each core emotion, and the tool ranks them in representative intensity. Third, you can click on “Actions of Emotion,” where we see what type of behavior we might take in response to the various emotions we feel. This to me is an especially powerful cross-cultural piece. The tool then takes us into the “Triggers of Emotion.” Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

“Moods of Emotion” are described as “longer-lasting cousins of the emotion, that cause the related emotion to be felt more frequently and intensely. It is not always apparent what triggers a mood.”

Finally, according to the tool, “A calm, balanced frame of mind is necessary to evaluate and understand our changing emotions. Calmness ideally is a baseline state, unlike emotions, which arise when triggered and then recede.”

Let me say that the part about the Atlas of Emotions that quickly concerned me is in the biography of the lead psychologist behind the tool, Paul Ekman. He apparently “demonstrated the universality of facial expression of emotion, mapping all 43 muscle groups used in facial expression.” I have not taken the time to review themes recent literature on this subject, but if you are reading this blog, you no doubt are well aware that facial expression and expression of emotion are far from universal. I welcome anyone current on the subject to please enlighten us in the comments below.

Despite this misgiving, I find the tool quite useful. It can be used for powerful personal reflection and learning, and it can be a terrific tool for discussing and reflecting on emotions across cultures—to understand more deeply, with more distinctions. I can see its use in conjunction with Cultural Detective Self Discovery, Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures, or any CD Worksheet analysis of critical incidents.

In the end, if you use a tool like this simply to spark thinking, reflection, learning, and discussion, then the thoroughness, accurateness, or universality of the tool doesn’t matter that much. If you give this exercise a go, please come back and share your experience!

Estereotipos: entre el bien y el mal

(English follows Spanish)
La subjetividad es tan inherente al ser humano como lo son sus propias emociones. En el alma mezclamos de manera inseparable la voluntad, el intelecto y la emoción; y según cada una de estas “sea alimentada” podremos actuar de una manera u otra. De hecho es por esto tan famosa la llamada Inteligencia Emocional, que no es otra cosa que alimentar el intelecto y la voluntad para controlar las emociones (y que Daniel Goleman me perdone por hacerlo parecer tan simple).

Por nuestro lado, y digo nuestro porque aquí es lo que nos reune, la Inteligencia Cultural (CQ) busca entonces alimentar “el conocimiento” , la “aprehención mental de las diferencias” y modelar el “comportamiento” entre las culturas.  Obviamente el comportamiento se nutre de nuestras emociones y por ende de alguna manera querámoslo o no se relaciona con nuestra subjetividad.

Sin embargo, como si fuera parte de un círculo vicioso nuestra subjetividad cambia según alimentemos el conocimiento y nos dispongamos a aprender y aprehender. Sí hay que conocer y disponerse a conocer, además de buscar fuentes de información diversas… variadas y paradójicamente, objetivas.

Los estereotipos sin duda alguna son uno de los principales desafíos en nuestra interacción intercultural. Para algunos es el bien… la bendición y el llevar consigo ese pre-juicio (pre: adelantado…inferido…establecido… no cuestionado) que les abre puertas y que les da acceso a una serie de oportunidades negadas para otros.

Ejemplos de esto hay muchos. Podríamos comenzar por las diferencias de género y por ende los pre-juicios alrededor de hombres y mujeres para el desempeño de oficios y responsabilidades. Aún es una realidad latente que hombres y mujeres no recibimos la misma remuneración al realizar/ejecutar la misma tarea y ocupando la misma posición.

Nelson Mandela es tristemente célebre por luchar contra el Apartheid y entregar su vida por demostrar que el color de la piel no interfiere con lo que somos o podemos ofrecer. Los prejuicios sociales se dramatizan entre el amarillismo y el realismo trágico en miles de tragicomedias y novelas reflejando una sociedad estereotipada.  No hay que dar muchos detalles de lo que significa tener un nombre de ascendencia árabe y musulmán en los Estados Unidos luego del 9/11.

Y así hay otras tantas, como la que vivo cuando me discriminan por el lugar donde nací. Entonces los estereotipos se convierten en una especie de estigma, de etiqueta, de prejuicio sin sentido y sin razón. Aunque parezca irreal cuando vivía en Londres a una compañera del college le prohibieron hablar conmigo “peligro es colombiana” y en 1998 buscando un lugar para vivir, llegué a uno de los suburbios a una casa donde lo primero que me dijeron: es usted familiar de Pablo Escobar?

Al final no importa lo bueno que cualquiera nacido en este país pueda tener. Lo malo es la nube negra que nos acompaña, nos limita, nos cierra puertas y lo peor, muchas veces tristemente habla por nosotros y enmudece nuestra voz.

Hay problemas, tal vez más que en otras latitudes… tal vez menos y más publicitadas. Los estereotipos se vuelven peligrosamente en contra de todos, y nos llevan al facilismo de generalizar y el derecho sesgado del absolutismo puro. TODOS los nacidos son, o TODOS los hombres, TODOS los musulmanes, TODOS…. y no! No todos ni todas somos iguales, si bien es cierto tenemos rasgos y características compartidas, el absolutismo es negarnos la posibilidad de nuestro valor como individuos… lo que somos más allá de lo que otros dicen que somos o debemos ser.

(English translation by Dianne Hofner Saphiere)

Stereotypes: Between Good and Evil

Subjectivity is as inherent to humans as are our emotions. In our souls we inextricably mix intellect and emotion, and we behave in one way or another depending on which one we feed. That which is famously called “Emotional Intelligence” (EQ) is, in truth, nothing more than feeding the intellect and controlling emotions (forgive me, Daniel Goleman, for making it seem so simple).

In our field, and I say “our” because it is what brings us together, Cultural Intelligence (CQ) seeks to feed “knowledge,” “mental appreciation of differences,” and to model “behavior” across cultures. Obviously behavior is influenced by our emotions and therefore, like it or not, it relates to our subjectivity.

However, as if it were part of a vicious cycle, our subjectivity changes according to how we nourish knowledge, and we can become better able to learn and comprehend. Yes, it’s necessary to know and to be ready to learn, to search for diverse sources of information — varied and, paradoxically, objective.

Stereotypes without any doubt are one of the major challenges in intercultural interaction. For some it’s the good; the blessing to take with them prejudice (established assumptions and inferences that are not questioned) that opens doors and gives them access to a series of opportunities denied to others.

There are many examples of this. We could start with gender differences and the prejudices surrounding men and women’s abilities to perform jobs and responsibilities. We live with the reality that men and women still do not receive equal pay for equal work or when occupying the same position.

Nelson Mandela is sadly famous for fighting Apartheid and devoting his life to demonstrating that the color of one’s skin does not interfere with who we are or what we have to offer. Social prejudices are dramatized between sensationalism and tragic realism in thousands of tragi-comedies and novels representing a stereotyped society. There is little need to give details surrounding what it means to be a Muslim man of Arab descent in the USA after 9/11.

And there are many more, like those I live with when people discriminate against me due to where I was born. The stereotypes become a type of stigma, a label, of mindless and irrational prejudice. Although it seems surreal, when I lived in London a college friend was prohibited from talking with me because I was “the Colombian danger,” and in 1998 when I was looking for a place to live, I arrived at a suburban house where the first thing they asked me was, “Are you related to Pablo Escobar?”

In the end, it doesn’t matter how good anyone born in this country might be. The evil is the black cloud that accompanies us, limits us, closes doors for us, and worse, that many times sadly speaks for us and mutes our voice.

We in Colombia have problems, perhaps more than in other locations; perhaps fewer but more publicized. Stereotypes come dangerously back against all of us, and they easily take us to generalizations and pure, biased absolutism. ALL OF US are born, ALL OF US are human, ALL OF US are Muslim, ALL … and not!

Not all of us are equal, even though we may share certain traits and characteristics. Absolutism negates the possibility of our value as individuals — it negates who we are, beyond that which others say we are or should be.