For no light matter is at stake; the question concerns the very manner in which human life is to be lived.
"Emotions tend to arouse matching emotions...We now know that emotional contagion resides in parts of the brain so ancient that we share them with animals as diverse as rats, dogs, elephants and monkeys."
Frans De Waal
Co-creating meaning since 2001
"Those who have the tools to develop and employ the appropriate emotions have the ability to live a life rich in the three aspirations that form the very stuff of our humanity: meaning, happiness and goodness."
Amongst the flowers a pot of wine
I pour alone with no friend at hand
So lift the cup to invite the shining moon
Along with my shadow a fellowship of three
Li Bai (Chinese poet 701-762)
We are shaped by our interactions with others, and it is our emotional ecology – the emotional interactions we experience – that makes us what we are. Emotional ecology becomes the principal determinant of our personhood
If well-being depends on interactions between events in our brains and events in the world, and there are better and worse ways to secure these, then some cultures will tend to produce lives that are more worth living than others; some political persuasions will be more enlightened than others; and some world views will be mistaken in ways that cause needless human misery."
Sam Harris 'The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values'
Emotional Ecology and People Development
Why an 'ecology' of emotions?
1. We describe the natural world in terms of habitats
2. Each habitat is an environment with an associated range of organisms
3. Within each habitat there are networks of interaction between those organisms and between the organisms and their environment
4. The networks are principally – but not exclusively - energy and nutrient based interactions
5. The networks - and the study of the networks - constitute the ecology of the habitat
1. The human world functions in groups – families, organizations, teams, settlements of varying size, etc.
2. Each group can be considered an 'environment' or 'habitat', with an associated range of interacting individuals
3. Within each human environment or habitat there are networks of interaction between the individuals and between individuals and their environment
4. These networks are principally – but not exclusively – emotionally based and driven
5. The emotional interactions - and the study of the interactions - constitute the emotional ecology of the group.
"The life-history of the individual is first and foremost an accommodation to the patterns and standards traditionally handed down in his community. From the moment of his birth the customs into which he is born shape his experience and behaviour. By the time he can talk, he is the little creature of his culture, and by the time his is grown and able to take part in its activities, its habits are his habits, its beliefs his beliefs, its impossibilities his impossibilities."
Ruth Benedict in "Patterns of Culture"
Learning, Development and Leadership within Emotional Ecology
- Everyone exists within at least one emotional environment
- Everyone is defined by their interactions in that environment
- All personal growth, learning, leadership and development is dependent on the interactions experienced in the emotional environment
- Therefore all personal growth, learning, leadership and development depends on the emotional ecology of which the individual is a part.
"The development of empathy begins...perhaps similarly to the way vbrations of one string set off vibrations in another."
Frans De Waal
Mirror neurons allow us to connect and 'tune in' to others; they allow us to understand what they are doing, but also what they are feeling.
Thus the growth of empathy, trust and understanding - essentials of emotional ecology - are mediated through mirror neurons.
When we see or hear another's pain, distress, anxiety, happiness or joy - or interact with them emotionally - we understand what they feel and neurons in our brain fall into synchrony and resonance with similar neurons in their brain.
"Our moral tendencies evolved in direct interaction with others whom we could hear, see, touch and smell...We're exquisitely attuned to the stream of emotional signals coming from other people's faces and postures and we resonate with expressions of our own."
Frans De Waal
Two or more people sharing the same experience can become literally as well as metaphorically 'tuned in' and 'on the same wavelength'.
This happens during the phenomenon of shared attention, which is central to learning in social groups.
Emotional ecology in learning and development
Emotional ecology is a major determinant of human behaviour and a necessary consideration in the design and delivery of all developmental activities.
Emotionally Competent Stimuli and Attention
We notice and pay attention to what is, or might be, important to us. It is our emotion and feelings that lead us to direct attention at, attribute significance to and create meaning from the plethora of sensory stimuli that would otherwise overwhelm our mental processing capacity.
Antonio Damasio says "Emotion is critical for the appropriate direction of attention since it provides an automated signal about the organism's past experience...and thus provides a basis for assigning or witholding attention" (from 'The Feeling of What Happens').
You may not be interested in neuroscience, but neuroscience is interested in you.