“Let’s be Earth Protectors.”
A decade later, I still hear my son’s clear piping 5-year-old voice, resonant with passion and conviction as we walked along a shore picking up trash.
Children seem to see the world so clearly: what’s unjust, what’s important, what really matters.
Yet all too often, their strength and purpose are dimmed by phrases like, “You have to be practical,” or “it’s not so simple,” or “those are grownup problems,” or “enjoy being young.” Hidden among these platitudes is an unintended message that, “Your life and responsibilities start later.” It’s true, of course, that the big problems in the world are complex — yet it’s equally true that it’s their world at least as much as it’s ours.
How can we use emotions – and emotional intelligence – to fuel our commitment to a better world… and support children to do the same? Here are some big ideas, exercises to try and practical steps to make the world better with emotional intelligence.
To start, a joyful look at the power of emotions for a better world:
As we embrace the U.N.’s Universal Children’s Day, for the third week of the #EQChildrensDay celebration, our focus is on these big questions of finding and fulfilling purpose. Of making the world better — someday, and also every day.
One of the powerful insights of Universal Children’s Day and the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child is an understanding of children-as-real-people — with their own rights and, therefore, their own responsibilities. If we are genuine in our commitment to those principles, then we must also honor children’s power to lead — not someday, but now.
How can we nourish children’s passion to make a difference? Maybe it starts with a decision to take them seriously. To see them not as “future citizens,” but as citizens now. These big ideas start with the choices we all make every day.
Therefore my challenge to each of you is that you ask yourself what you can do to make a difference. And then take that action, no matter how large or how small.
For our children have a right to peace.
Using the Past to Imagine the Future
The quest to recognize children’s rights is rooted in a larger story of human rights. Here’s a beautifully rendered story of this history. As you watch, consider: “How do I make these rights real in my own daily life?”
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt, “In Our Hands” (1958 speech delivered on the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Despair Versus Determination
Eleanor Roosevelt’s words are beautiful, but are they practical? In a world where blame and fear seem to be increasingly popular, is it good advice to ask our children to be good people?
It’s probably easier to join in the anger and fear than to recommit to compassion and hope. It’s probably easier to blame than to take responsibility. It’s probably easier to “wait and see” than to stand up. But is that easier path the way we want to live our lives? Is that the path we really want to teach our children?
When I look at the headlines and see hate-crimes rising and people polarized and divided, I feel this knot of pain in my heart. It’s easy to imagine how that pain could calcify into a hard rock of despair that pushes me to retreat. To protect my self-interest. To join in the blame.
Yet what if I could turn that knot of pain into conviction? What if I could use my own pain as a catalyst to expand, to be more accepting, to be more generous with love and appreciation? It’s the same pain, used in very different ways.
You are never stronger...than when you land on the other side of despair.
As parents and teachers, we have a difficult responsibility. We want to protect our children and make life easier for them. At the same time, perhaps “easier” isn’t enough. Perhaps in times of challenge, in times with big, complex emotions, that’s when we most need to find the courage to stand up to our highest ideals. Perhaps in these moments, when it seems impossible, and unpopular, we most need the courage to care.
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
Nourishing a Better World with Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence simply means: Being smarter with feelings. Accurately reading emotional data, and using that data to solve problems. While people seem to vehemently disagree about the best path forward, it seems nearly unanimous that we have plenty of problems to solve… and plenty of strong feelings about these issues.
So how do we use these challenging emotions in a way that’s smart? Six Seconds developed a three-step process:
1. Notice your feelings and reactions.
2. Take a pause to evaluate and create more options.
3. Step forward in a way that’s both purposeful and caring.
We call these three steps: Know Yourself, Choose Yourself, Give Yourself, and we put them in a circle. You can start anywhere, and keep going around and around.
The workshop for week three of #EQChildrensDay teaches this process in the context of rights and responsibilities. The key question in the workshop is:
What do you want to see in the future… and if that’s going to happen: What is your responsibility?
Then groups discuss these responsibilities using the three steps.
Ready to try it yourself?
- If you could make one wish for the future, what would it be?
- For that to happen, what is your responsibility?
- Now, use this handout about the three steps for emotional intelligence to put your emotional intelligence into action about this challenge.
What happens when you do so? Please share in the comments!
(and, below, there’s another great exercise to try with your kids)
Know Yourself. Choose Yourself. Give Yourself.
… and repeat…
The three steps to put emotional intelligence into action.
The result? A world where people are more…
Linking Change to Purpose
One of the key insights that drove us in creating our model for change, and the book INSIDE CHANGE, is the tough recognition that most change efforts fail. Sadly, it means that while we might want a better future, odds are not in our favor. Yet in our research, we found change IS possible. People CAN do and be better.
One of the most powerful ingredients to successful change is a clear and compelling purpose. When people know WHY they need to change, and they feel that as a worthy purpose, they are willing to struggle and sacrifice to make it happen. Just like all the people who’ve paved the way for children’s rights these last 57 years and more.
When we link change to purpose, a whole set of powerful emotions emerge to drive us forward. Courage. Conviction. Compassion. Commitment. Caring. And probably ones with other letters too… like hope, love, joy, wonder, passion, excitement. Purpose drives emotions. Emotions drive people. People drive change.
Exercise: Purpose for Change
Here’s another exercise you can try right now. Read these quotations about purpose — ideally, read them together with a child or other person you care about and discuss what they mean to you.
As you read, consider: Which ideas are most important to you? For the quotes you like best, imagine teaching thousands of children the idea in the quotation, and notice your feelings.
The secret of success is constancy to purpose.
Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change.
From compassion, comes courage.
Today, I see thousands of Mahatma Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings, and Nelson Mandelas marching forward and calling on us. The boys and girls have joined. I have joined in. We ask you to join, too.
Everything in this world happens with a purpose. You are born in this world with a purpose, you are chosen by purpose.
It is essential that we enable young people to see themselves as participants in one of the most exciting eras in history, and to have a sense of purpose in relation to it.
I work really hard at trying to see the big picture and not getting stuck in ego. I believe we’re all put on this planet for a purpose, and we all have a different purpose… When you connect with that love and that compassion, that’s when everything unfolds.
Fix your course to a star and you can navigate through any storm.
All human beings are very creative – full of potential, full of energy…
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
Putting Purpose Into Action
It’s not enough to dream the dream. Change comes from action. As a friend once put it to me: We need to put our feet beneath our prayers — we need to take action to make the vision real.
So as you read those quotes and feel the feelings in the exercise above, what is one small action step? Don’t make it overly complex – don’t try to fix everything at once. Is there one person you can connect with? One question you can ask? One gift of time, energy, or resources you can contribute to what you care most about? Every moment we have choices – maybe not total freedom or total choice, but some choice: How can you use those choices more purposefully?
Don’t run from feelings. Emotions are signals of what’s important. Even (especially) when you or children have difficult, painful feelings, honor that this feeling is real and connected to something important. Big feelings tell us: Something important is happening here.
Take children seriously. Remember they are citizens with their own rights and opinions, even when they’re little, they can have big ideas.
Emotions motivate us — and we can create emotions. When “times are tough” we often feel scared or overwhelmed, and those feelings have value. At the very same time, hidden under those feelings we probably feel love, concern, and hope — listen to those feelings too.
Remember, using emotional intelligence isn’t just an internal process. When we get our feelings and thoughts working together, it helps us take more powerful actions. Heart and head and hands united. Then we can take active steps to make a better world. For example, if we fill ourselves with empathy, and feel a deep caring for all people (even the whole world), are we more willing to dig deeper? If we fill ourselves with the emotions that grow from a sense of purpose, will we find the energy to do the hard work?
There are so many challenges in the world, from “small” things like cleaning up a neighborhood, to “vast” things like protecting all people’s human rights. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but remember that millions of small actions create a wave of new possibility. Yes, it’s hard, but when we connect to emotions, we can find and strengthen courage. Courage to care. Courage to be open to one another. Courage to take risks or go beyond our comfort zone, whatever that may be, to make a difference.