Emotional literacy is different from emotional intelligence (EI) in that it emphasizes the emotion of love, cooperation and the common good which are ignored in definitions of emotional intelligence. That is why we say that emotional literacy (EmLiT) is heart-centered emotional intelligence.

The distinction is important as I will show later. In fact a recent study suggests that there’s an actual discrepancy between acting morally and knowing one’s and others’ emotions and how to manage them.

Researchers  A. M. Bacon, H Burak and J Rann. found that young adult women high in EI also rated higher in delinquent behavior. This suggests that, with young women at least, EI without an ethical compass can be a social detriment.

Emotional literacy–emotional intelligence with a heart—is an essential component of personal and social well-being and my experience is that it can be learned through the practice of specific transactional exercises which target the capacities to love oneself and others while developing honesty, awareness of emotions, and responsibility.

A History of the Emotional Intelligence Movement.

The emotional intelligence movement is a scientific measurement project initiated in the 1990 by Peter Salovey and John Meyer in the mold of the intelligence quotient (IQ) of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. Salovey and Meyer, both psychologists, were interested in finding out whether there was  a special form of intelligence about emotions and if so how to measure it. Their research has led to the development of an emotional intelligence test—the Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT)– which proposes to measure EQ by the use of four scales representing different skills of emotional intelligence; The four scales are:

Identifying Emotions – the ability to recognize how you and those around you are feeling as measured by the accuracy of identifying emotions in photographed faces.

Facilitating Thought– the ability to generate an emotion, and then reason with this emotion as measured by multiple choice questions about emotion-related situations

Understanding Emotions – the ability to understand complex emotions and emotional “chains”, how emotions transition from one stage to another as measured by multiple choice questions about emotion-related situations

Managing Emotions – the ability which allows you to manage emotions in your self and in others as measured by multiple choice questions about emotion-related situations.(See: http://www.emotionaliq.org/Test.htm)

Beyond Emotional Intelligence; Emotional literacy.   The path of emotional literacy studies was very different from Salovey and Mayer’s path of scientific research. It began as a personal quest based on an emotional experience that so dramatically illustrated my emotional illiteracy, that I had to do something about it. I was in a dazzling new relationship with Hogie Wyckoff, who one day, over breakfast asked me the classic, age-old question:  “Do you love me?”  I replied: “Of course I love you”,  Puzzled, she repeated with slightly different emphasis: “DO you love me?”,  and I said:  “Would I be here if I didn’t love you?” Once again, impatiently now, she repeated  “No, DO YOU LOVE ME?”   Again, I evaded:  “How many times do I have to tell you that I love you? How many times do you need to hear it?”,  Now she was angry: “Look, if you don’t tell me if you love me, I am out of here, I am gone!”   I was deeply in love with her, but I couldn’t admit it and couldn’t say it. I realized she was serious, she was going to leave me. So, with what felt like a hand around my throat choking me, I croaked: “I gloog u!”  After a stunned silence she burst out laughing. I, feeling utterly foolish, joined the laughter. After we had our fun she turned serious and said: “You got a problem, you better do something about it, you and your gang of brothers.” This was 1969, Berkeley California. We were both active in the movement against the Vietnamwar.  The anti-war movement taught us about oppression, liberation, equality and change. Women in the movement were beginning to notice that in spite of their high flown ideals, the “gang of brothers” in the anti-war movement weren’t changing their sexist ways. They continued to be exactly the macho men they always were and women realized that this was not acceptable.  Women started meeting in mutual support groups—women only—and they were saying, “We are tired of these guys; they won’t say how they feel and won’t talk about what they really want (sex mostly) and instead get what they want with power plays. Who needs them anyway?” And so when Hogie asked me “the question” and I found myself unable to answer, I realizedthat I needed to do serious work on my emotions and that, with other men as well. I wrote two pamphlets titled: A Letter to a Brother, and Feminism for Men and eventually the book When a Man Loves a Woman in which I wrote about man-woman relationships, feminism, love and other emotions all inspired by Hogie and her revolutionary sisters.   This was the beginning of the emotional literacy movement in 1969 many years before Meyer and Salovey turned their attention to emotional intelligence and based on a whollydifferent motivation.  

IQ and EQ

Let us take a brief look at the concepts of EQ and IQ. The value of being emotionally intelligent is not obvious to every­one, at least not as obvious as the value of having a high IQ score. Research shows that if you have a high IQ (intelligence quotient) it’s more likely you will be a good learner, do well in school and become productive and successful. Not only that, you’ll probably enjoy good health and a long life. It seems that such happy results come from IQ alone but as Daniel Goleman asserts, to live well, you need not only a good IQ but also a good EIQ (emotional intelligence quotient; EQ for short).

The term “EQ,” though snappy, means less than you might think. For now, it is a marketing concept, rather than a scientifically validated term. Psychologists have been rating IQ scientifically for nearly a century, though they argue about exactly what it means. Some say IQ precisely pegs an innate quality called intelligence. Others say it measures some less clear-cut quality of people who turn out to be successful in school, and eventually in life. Still others argue that it is hopelessly biased favoring white people. Either way, you can more or less validly and reliably measure a person’s IQ, and it’s proven a good thing to have a high one.

As of today, in spite of the MSCEIT test, EQ if it exists, can’t be easily measured. You can get a rough idea, but you can’t be sure. Still, we can meaningfully speak of emotional intelligence as long as we don’t claim to be able to measure it precisely.


The term “emotional intelligence” was first used in print by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990, fifteen years after I coined the term “emotional literacy”  which first appeared in print in my book Healing Alcoholism in 1979.

What is the difference between emotional intelligence and emotional literacy, aside from their  different origins? Briefly, as the title of this book indicates, emotional literacy is emotional intelligence with a moral and political compass, or emotional intelligence with a heart; centered on the emotion of love.

This is an admittedly biased, politically inspired approach. Emotional acumen can be organized around a variety of emotions or purposes. As an example, if what we want is to intimidate and terrorize people into compliance there is intelligence that has been used from time immemorial, and is constantly updated by governments and torturers around the world (the Inquisition, the Nazis, the School the Americas, the CIA, etc.) who achieve their purpose by emotional means.

Or, if what we want is to be able to influence people to buy or vote, sophisticated ad agencies are quite successful in manipulating people’s emotions to accomplish their client’s goals using widely available information about emotions and how they function to affect voting or buying behavior.

On a less political version of EI we see an extraordinarily successful version of emotional intelligence in the skill that is displayed by animators of films. In these films the most subtle emotional nuances in a wide gamut of feeling are conveyed with a few lines on a two dimensional surface. These computer-designed emotional triggers are far cheaper and possibly more reliable than a flesh and blood actor can provide. They are based on more than a century’s research  that began with Charles  Darwin’s book The expression of emotions in man and Animals in which he affirms that all mammals express their emotions in a similar manner thereby confirming their shared genetic ancestry. In the book he develops a system of classification based on 43 units of facial configurations that are involved in all possible emotional expression in the face. This knowledge is an important aspect of the MSCEIT test, one aspect of which involves recognition of emotions from photographs of faces. The somewhat questionable assumption here is that emotional intelligence is correlated with being able to judge emotions from photographed faces.

On the personal level we can use our emotional skills to develop self-control and to soothe and protect ourselves emotionally or we can misuse them to control others by creating guilt, fear or depression. I see signs that many who agree that emotional intelligence is an important capacity have lost sight of the importance of the ethical dimensions of emotional education;  those emotional skills that improve people’s lives; not just one person’s or specific group’s but all people’s. It is my conviction that the emotional abilities that empower people’s lives in that long lasting, humane manner are the skills that are organized around human affiliation; the true source of personal power, the love-centered skills.


Power is generally thought of as control, mainly the ability to control people and/or money. When we think of a powerful person, for example, we picture a captain of industry, a shrewd politician or a superstar athlete who commands millions in salary; a person who is emotionally detached and cool. We have come to expect these attributes in powerful people and we emulate them in the belief that emotions are to be manipulated and require a tight rein.

But the sort of personal power that is derived from the security of satisfying relationships and fruitful work are ultimately incompatible with a tight rein and manipulation of emotions. On the contrary, personal power depends on having a comfortable relationship with the emotions, ours and other people’s. Emotional literacy requires that our emotions be expressed and listened to.

Not everyone who suffers of emotional illiteracy is emotionally deaf and dumb. Another form of emotional powerlessness occurs when we are excessively emotional and out of control with our feelings. In that situation instead of being out of touch with the world of emotions we are all too aware and responsive to them as they overwhelm and even hound and terrorize us. Either extreme, under or over-emotionality spells trouble.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, all too often, the interpersonal experience is laced with lies, strife, failure and emotional abuse and pain which stunt our emotional capacities. Emotional literacy training aims to reverse that by facilitating cooperative, harmonic relationships at home and at work and gives us the tools to avoid a dark, cynical view of life. Emotional literacy makes it possible for every conversation, every human contact and every partnership, however brief or long-term, to yield the largest possible rewards for all involved. Even though it doesn’t not guarantee unlimited access to cash and things, emotional literacy is a key to personal power because emotions are powerful and if you can make them work for you rather than against you, they will lend you their clout.

Claude Steiner

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