Vatican Council Examines Problem of Low Emotional Intelligence

Moral theologian and cultural analyst Pia de Solenni, a Register contributor, discussed the issue at a Pontifical Council of Culture session.

Pia de Solenni.
Pia de Solenni. (photo: Stephen Driscoll/CNA)

ROME — The Pontifical Council for Culture spent its last session tackling the problem of emotional illiteracy among younger generations and discovering how to restore that among the youth.

“If people learn how to experience intimacy on a natural level, then they are going to be disposed to it on a supernatural level, on a spiritual level,” said Pia De Solenni, just before delivering the final talk for the council’s Feb. 6-9 plenary assembly in Rome.

“Pope Benedict said at the start of the Year of Faith: ‘The crisis in faith is happening at the same time as the crisis in the family.’”

“You can’t ignore that,” she stressed in a Feb. 8 interview with Catholic News Agency.

During the session, De Solenni was asked to speak to the council about the “emotive alphabet of youth.”

“It’s a term that doesn’t exist in English,” she explained.

“The council came up with it really as a proactive measure. In Italian and English, and I’m sure in other languages, there’s a lot of talk about emotional illiteracy — ‘analphabetismo.’”

The Pontifical Council for Culture decided that it wanted to look at what the emotive alphabet would be since, as De Solenni put it, “you need to know the letters before you put them together to make words and sentences and stories.”

Of particular interest to the council was how lower emotional intelligence can impact young people on the spiritual and human levels.

As she delved into the latest research on the topic, De Solenni looked at the work of Daniel Goleman, a researcher that she described as “the grandfather of emotional intelligence,” and another psychologist researcher, Jean Tweng.

Tweng found that anyone born during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was shaped by the "Boomer Generation," which she calls “Generation Me.”

“It’s not just the individualism, but also the whole self-esteem thing — everybody’s a winner. Everybody gets first prize on the soccer team,” De Solenni explained.

“It’s created this whole culture of people who think they’re very entitled, think they’re very special, and then the world comes crashing down around them because the rest of the world doesn’t think the way they do.”

Goleman, she related, “talks about emotional intelligence, the ability to relate to others and to know oneself.”

Surveying modern society, Goleman highlights negative social indicators that are present and indicate the lack of emotional intelligence.

“The positive thing for youth is that the emotive alphabet is something that has been true throughout history and for everyone,” De Solenni remarked.

“It’s the desire to love and be loved, the desire to be in relation, the desire for intimacy.”

But De Solenni explained that these changes have not left Catholics untouched by any means.

“What’s happened is that we’re at a point in history where families by and large are not succeeding at this,” and Catholic schools aren’t either.

The result is that “you have a whole generation of children that are Catholic in identity, but they don’t know their faith. They’re part of the hook-up culture; they look just like the secular culture,” she said.

Searching for a solution, De Solenni talked to people who run successful youth-ministry programs at the high school and college levels.

She found that they all have three things in common that build up emotional intelligence.

The ministries that are successful always build relationships, teach the faith in a challenging way and impart a life of prayer.

Following De Solenni’s talk, the council discussed her findings and then wrapped up the assembly with prayer.

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