Who is The School of Life?
We’re a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence. We were founded about ten years ago and today we have branches around the world, from Amsterdam to Rio to Tel Aviv.
We’re a real school (for grown-ups!) and we teach classes to individuals on topics from How to Find Love to How to Identify your Career Potential.
But we don't just teach individuals. We also work with business and organisations to teach the key emotional skills needed in every workplace, from resilience to confidence to charm. And we sell books, games, cards, and other beautiful retail products around the world, all designed to help you understand yourself better and live a calmer, wiser and more fulfilled life.
What is Emotional Intelligence (EI) and why is it so important?
Emotional intelligence is the type of intelligence that allows us to better navigate our own emotions and better understand and respond to the emotions of others.
It’s marked in part by skepticism around emotions. Instead of imagining that everything we feel at the time must be true or even useful, that we should "trust our gut" or our instincts, we’re able to consider (for example) whether we really
hate our partner or are simply quite tired, whether our new colleague is truly impossibly difficult or whether they most remind us of unpleasant people we knew at university, and so on.
There’s a keen awareness in emotional intelligence that we might be “importing” quite a lot from our past, especially our childhoods. This is yet another reason to practice gentle skepticism about some of our feelings.
Of course, this helpful skepticism is also just as useful when we need to consider what’s going on with other people. We can be a lot more generous if we apply emotional intelligence, because we can understand that someone who is seemingly very angry might actually be quite afraid about what others will think of them (for example.) And that allows us to work to address their fears or anxieties instead of responding with rage ourselves… Find out more on this here.
Emotions – strengths or weaknesses? Explain.
Neither, really- emotions are just the way we process certain types of information. No matter what, for better or worse, we’re going to have emotions of all types. But it matters quite a lot how we let ourselves feel these emotions and how well we come to understand them.
It also matters quite a lot not only that we understand our emotions intellectually but also improve how we navigate emotions, through reflection and practice. It won't be enough to "understand", we're going to have to put things to work in practice...
For example, we might need to not only know
that we should keep calm during a high-conflict situation, but also practice doing this until it becomes easier. Or we might need to actually go and revisit some of the emotions we had growing up around our fear of being judged, shamed, or excluded before we can become less nervous about making new friends as adults.
Do you believe people have become more open to the dialogue around our emotions? If so, what’s the benefit of this?
Well, it really depends on what eras and groups of people we’re comparing—history isn’t so straightforward in this regard.
But in any case, the benefits of being more open about our emotions are simply enormous. At work, it allows us to admit difficulties when they arise and get help before things get worse. It allows us to show (appropriate) vulnerability and levels of doubt, which makes us much more trustworthy, because people see that we’ll share our concerns openly instead of always trying to impress or please. It’s especially important as leaders that we are able to share enough appropriate emotion, because it allows people to trust us and therefore work toward shared goals. (A good way of thinking about this: would you rather follow someone who is blindly self-confident, or easily angered, or someone you can see is very thoughtful, self-reflective, and takes responsibility when things go wrong?)
We have a business division
that helps individuals, teams, and organisations around the world practice open dialog around their emotions. It’s a real pleasure and privilege to work in partnership with major global organisations to help them support their employees and reach their goals.
In our personal lives, being more open about our emotions is one of the most mature things we can do, whether the relationship in question is romantic, familial, or friendship. It demonstrates that we trust the other person, that we don’t need to be "tough" around them and that we actually want them to know what’s going on with us.
This is, ultimately, much of what makes our connections with others meaningful: that we can share not just our parochial “shallow self” (with its "proper" un-embarrassing exterior, its opinions about the weather in our neighbourhood or where it might be nice to go on holiday) but also our far more human and universal “deep self” (with all our hopes, and fears, anxieties, dreams, and desires). What’s better than being loved and cared for, deep self and all?
What do you envisage an Emotional Intelligent society looking like?
First of all, we'd all be much more honest about how crazy we are. On a first date, it would be a totally normal question to ask “and in what ways are you crazy?” (We don’t, of course, mean “crazy” as a way of referring to mental illness, as that would be terribly offensive—we mean instead the ways we all are strange, irrational, and perhaps a bit tricky to live with.)
In an emotionally intelligent society we’d also take very seriously the idea that we could learn this type of thing throughout our lives—that we might not be terribly good at having arguments with our partner at 32, but that we weren't therefore stuck forever in that pattern, that we could learn to argue and handle conflict better by (say) 40 and might be really good at it by age 50. Practicing emotional skills would carry great prestige, much the way we admire and envy those who can train for marathons now.
And as I mentioned earlier, we’d all learn to be much more skeptical of our emotions as well. We’d know they could mislead us. We’d be more open about what we might be feeling—but also trust many of these emotions, especially the short-term reactive ones, a lot less.
Do you ever think EI will become part of the school curriculum?
Absolutely. It's one of many things people need to learn, and also to practice over and over again instead of just once… school is one of the ideal places for this to occur.
Moreover, as our education system is currently mostly geared to prepare us for working life, emotional intelligence should increasingly play a greater part in mainstream education. That’s because emotional intelligence is crucial for working well, as it allows us to collaborate and lead others. In the future a lot of the “hard skills” we currently learn in school will be less necessary as computers take over many tasks—which means emotional skills will become more and more what people use at work.
And not just at work—in life. In the future we hope (and believe) that schools won’t just prepare us to help someone else make a profit but will train us in the emotional skills needed for us to have fulfilling lives as individuals, and to create a collectively wiser and healthier society.
What EI content are people mostly engaged by?
To generalise very broadly, people love to learn about love and work. And of course, they want to know more about themselves.
What three pieces of advice would you give somebody who wanted to increase their emotional awareness – where would they start?
We deeply believe in the value of therapy – not just if you’re having a particularly tough time, but as a path to greater wisdom and self-understanding. There is something very valuable about having 50 minutes where someone else (someone wise, experienced, an nonjudgemental) will simply listen to you, and allow you to hear yourself properly too.
It’s also worth actively practicing skepticism about your emotions. You might, for example, make a practice of giving yourself time to think through an issue by, journaling, or talking through your feelings with a trusted friend, especially before making important decisions.
And of course – we’d love you to follow us, come to our classes, watch our films, read our books…
Great, tell us more about that. What resources would you recommended?
One of the best things you can do is subscribe to our newsletter. We release some exclusive content there each week, and update you on our new books, cards, games, films, classes, events and more…
You can also subscribe to The School of Life's YouTube channe
l (we put up two new films a week) and to The Book of Life (we also put up new articles each week).
And finally, if you want to meet other people interested in having deeper conversations and exploring emotional intelligence, you can download our app on ios. We’d love to see you there!
Paving the way to a more emotionally intelligent London, The School of Life shares its wise teachings to help individuals live a more mindful and conscious existence. Addressing common issues on how to find fulfilling work, master the art of relationships, find inner calm and understand the world we live in, The School of Life delivers workshops, talks and creates engaging content to support curious individuals on their journey. We caught up with Sarah from The School of Life to talk emotions – What are emotions? How can they serve us better?