Raise Your EQ: Eat Your Fiction

Eat Your Fiction“The most important characteristic of being human is that our lives are social,” says Oatley. “What’s distinctive about humans is that we make social arrangements with other people—with friends, with lovers, with children [with coworkers]….Fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience.” *

I have heard this before and was glad to see an actual study in support of this idea that fiction supersedes non-fiction for enhancing emotional intelligence. Truth be told, I have always been a bit of a snob about non-fiction over fiction, wondering what there was to learn if the stuff wasn’t even true. But now I take in fiction, not just to raise my EQ (emotional intelligence or empathy quotient) but because stories feel good.

Click here for a beautiful piece in Science Magazine on ancient campfires and storytelling. We talked before about the human love of landscapes and food sharing as reminiscent of our earliest days on the Savannah. Storytelling can be reminiscent of our earliest days as humans too – storytelling to expand the mind after a hard day of physical work, and to improve social bonds and relations or, in short, to enhance EQ.

To this day, there are pretty significant benefits to enhancing EQ. EQ is the ability to read, understand, and use the emotions effectively. Paula Durlofsky, PhD tells us that people with well-developed EQs can “communicate better, reduce their anxiety and stress, defuse conflicts, improve relationships, empathize with others, and effectively overcome life’s challenges.”

That sounds good but what do we mean by “use” the emotions? Use them for what? A lot of people I work with don’t want to go anywhere near them, fearing that to let them in at all is to face an overwhelming tsunami of useless emotion from which they may never recover. Emotions have had such a bad rap that my clients** and I spend large swaths of our work unraveling this mistaken idea. Once we do, miracles can happen, because emotions are information that tell us where we want or need to go in our lives.

The one who is understandably furious about race in America discovers the depths of his rage; unleashing this rage in doses he can tolerate allows him to channel the emotion – to use the emotion – in highly constructive ways for himself and so many others. The ones who are filled with shame about childhood behaviors bring the shame to the fore, informing them of the huge part this shame has played in shaping their lives, information directing them toward far less punishing, more joyful, and productive lives going forward. The single ones who let in how envious they are of the married ones move away from the already taken, opening themselves to the possibility of partners with whom they really can love and be loved. The ones who use their heads so much that they cannot feel their hearts begin to come alive in connection with themselves and others – in work, play, love and life – at the least little feeling, doesn’t even matter what it’s about.

They always want to know, all of them, if they are the only ones struggling with emotion, trying not to feel what they feel, trying with all their might not to be who they, as human beings, really are. Of course, they are not the only ones and fiction can tell them so. Jane Eyre. Anna Karenina. You name it. And doesn’t even have to be an 800 page classic:

“What’s a piece of fiction, what’s a novel, what’s [a] short story, what’s a play or movie or television series? It’s a piece of consciousness being passed from mind to mind. When you’re reading or watching a drama, you’re taking in a piece of consciousness that you make your own….That seems an exciting idea.”*

And it can be, but doesn’t have to be, just you. Join a book club. Or a movie club. It’s always interesting to hear other people’s differing interpretations of the exact same thing. Read their minds. See if you are right. Make it a game. Sharpen your EQ and improve your life. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Oatley, K.: “Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds,” http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/fulltext/S1364-6613(16)30070-5 , DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.06.002

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


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