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  • Writer's pictureEvan Warfel

The Type O Theory of Emotional Intelligence (and Love)

Over the past few months, I've been gathering bits and pieces of what I'm calling The Type O Theory of Emotional Intelligence (and Love). The long and short of it is that emotional intelligence (EI) spreads through social networks in specific ways, and there are interesting and potentially profound conclusions that follow from considering how this happens.

Before I dive in to the theory itself, let's start with The Wire, widely hailed as one of the best TV shows ever made. If you are anything like me, provided you’ve seen the show, you’ll give it a hearty recommendation when you find out that someone hasn’t seen it. The Wire spreads through social networks like a virus, or a meme, just like everything that gets recommended by word-of-mouth or reposted on facebook.

But The Wire is a discrete, semi-tangible “thing.” Emotional Intelligence is an abstract concept that describes something not easily put into words regarding a person's behavior. Depending on your definition, it might include how they might make you feel or the "vibe" they give off. But this raises a question: can "vibes" transfer from person to person like The Wire?

How Emotional Intelligence Spreads Through Social Networks

The short answer is yes, but not easily. If you are relating and interacting with a high EI person, they can contribute to raising your EI in the following seven ways.

(1) The things they will notice and point out will likely stem from their sensitivity towards their feelings and their reactions to emotion-laden content. These attentional cues can teach you to notice similar things.​ If you see a film with a high-EI person, or listen to the right piece of music, they will likely make observations about aspects of the work that may initially seem subtle to you.

Specific examples are easy enough to imagine when thinking about how a high EI person might talk about interpersonal interactions (either in real life or on film, and so on). For a different example, the second verse from the Bee Gees' How Deep Is Your Love goes:

"...I believe in you You know the door to my very soul You're the light in my deepest, darkest hour You're my savior when I fall And you may not think I care for you When you know down inside that I really do And it's me you need to show / How deep is your love..."

In the context of the whole song, the bolded lines go by pretty quickly. Most people don't give them too much thought. But if you happen to be talking with a high-EI person about this song they will likely point out that the bolded lines are from the point of view of an unintentionally manipulative person.

(2) Relatedly, they can help you learn what it is like to not be pressured in a relationship. (In fact, they might use the aforementioned Bee Gees song as an illustration, though this will likely pale in comparison to them avoiding pushing you to behave in certain ways.) If you haven’t been exposed to not being convinced of what you are feeling, you might not realize when you are putting pressure on other people.

(3) They’ll likely model healthy ways of processing events and making decisions.​ I doubt a high-EI person will complain about petty things or get annoyed at minor inconveniences. They also might show you "what to say" during situations that may strike you, and not them, as awkward.

(4) Due to their understanding of empathy, skill at it, and sensitivity towards themselves, they can help you be more sensitive towards your experience. This very often makes you better able to empathically connect with others.

(5) They’ll expose you to a type of blame-free relationship where arguments dissolve before they get started, as emotional intelligence also involves communication. [0]

(6) Being around a highly emotionally intelligent person can inform or update your mental model of Openness, Love as well as all of the other components of what a relationship can be.

(7) Most significantly, they can show you what being fully connected to your own emotional reality feels like. (Not denying someone else's emotional reality can be a very subtle thing for most people.) Imagine telling a friend that you are intimidated by the person you just started dating. If they say something like 'but you have all of these good qualities', 'but he/she likes you' or ' maybe they're intimidated by you,' the person you are talking with is not connecting to your emotional reality, no matter how supportive they are. In fact, by trying to reassure you into a different emotional state, they will likely unintentionally contribute to you to being disconnected from the emotions you were trying to process.

Note that these are all implicit lessons; they happen without any party intending to teach anything. In addition, a high EI person can also explicitly teach you emotional intelligence without making you feel criticized, dumb, or ashamed.

Mechanisms of Osmosis

However, there is one catch, and it's a Catch-22 of this whole EI transference scheme. The catch is that the receiving person has to be open enough to pick up on the lessons. Being open to growth is itself a marker of (some level of ) EI [1]. What this means is means that EI only spreads if the difference between two people’s emotional intelligence is large enough. And this threshold gets smaller as both people move along the spectrum towards high EI. (Due to the receiver being more open.)

So either the receiving person needs to be open enough to be able to absorb what they are being shown, or the giver needs to be emotionally intelligent enough that they are able to reach the emotionally unintelligent person.

In fact, if you think about it, the only way that EI can spread is via someone who’s a) figured some things out or b) been exposed to either the behavior or structured thoughts of someone else who had high EI.

However, EI does not spread unimpeded. If it did, we all would have the emotional intelligence of the person with the highest emotional intelligence across the entire human social network. Instead It only spreads when the gap is big enough; when the "voltage" is high enough to induce the flow of EI, across whatever barriers the receiving person may be operating with.

Four Implications

Though the mechanism of EI transfer may sound obvious, there are four logical implications that I find quite profound. Specific and concrete examples follow.

(Also, I'm using a very specific definition of "emotional intelligence" here. If you are interested in that, check back in a week or so for this post's moderately-technical companion.)

(1) Extremely emotionally intelligent people must be “Type O” interpersonal connectors.

The EI gap between them and others is large enough that they can help raise the emotional intelligence of (most of) the people they interact with. Type O people are able to reach people (potentially much) further back down the path of growth towards greater EI than non-Type-O people, to the point that there might be no one they can't reach.

The boundary between the shaded and unshaded region is the threshold for EI transfer.

But, you might point out, if the Type O theory is true, how is it that we aren't all Type O? Surely Type-O-ness would spread through social networks. My answer is that raising other people's emotional intelligence is not necessarily the same thing as contributing to making someone Type O. I suspect "becoming Type O" requires something more than just being in contact with a person who has more EI than you. On the other hand, maybe this means that humanity has yet to see someone who has been "Type O enough" to really do the trick.

(2) Technically speaking, whether a person is a Type O interpersonal connector or not comes before whatever role they perform. If they love, it’s Type O love or if they emote intelligently then we have Type O EI. Thus what is true of EI is also true of love, and maybe there isn't a whole lot of difference between the two concepts.

To me, this raises an interesting question: might Type O individuals experience love differently non-Type-O people? [1]

From what I can tell, warm, tender feelings are possible at any stage of maturity, and feelings at one stage are not less valid than any other. Some people loved their pet rocks. Other people love their pet animals. Some love celebrities they’ve never met. And many are busy trying to find the one they might love. While a Type O person may not experience what they would consider to be romantic chemistry with many of the people they interact with, they’ll likely agree with Eric Fromm, who wrote that how you love one person is reflected in how you love all people and vice versa. (I suspect this is due to how a person's mental "building blocks" of what constitutes a relationship more fundamental than any specific relationship they may be in.)

Also, if two Type O people were to date, I’d imagine you’d have quite a power couple.

(3) There are (at least) two categories of causal threads or currents of interpersonal interaction that ripple through society, both of which can be described as either self-reinforcing or self-similar. A former partner of mine once remarked that they were like fractals. One is a positive thread of emotional intelligence, love and maturity. It connects each person who has been exposed to the behaviors or thoughts of someone else who helped raise their EI. The other is its opposite, a scar of criticism and nagging on one end of a spectrum as well as trauma and abuse on the other. [3]

The emotionally unavailable fathers of the world were most likely raised by emotionally unavailable fathers and mothers, who themselves were raised by parents who didn’t know how to connect with their children, and so on. Our grandparents’ grandparents were raised in an era with some truly disastrous notions about parenting, like that parents were only successful if they “broke the will of the child.” [4]

Logically, this means that all of the teachers you had in your years of schooling who were only okay, or churlish, or critical, or made you feel bad, or seemed disconnected from their job… none of them had ever had a teacher who was Type O enough, and none of their teacher’s teachers had teachers who were a Type O enough either.

So on and so forth, from generation to generation.

It is likely none of these people had ever read John Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Because if they had, they would have changed the way they interacted with each other, trickling all the way down to you you. Like How to Win Friends and Influence People, Gottman’s book is so clearly written it is hard to miss the message, especially for people who are oriented towards working in a helping profession like teaching. (These are two of the four main books I recommend to people who are interested in raising their EI. Details can be found at the bottom of this post.)

Similar threads apply to managers, bosses, founders, leaders, therapists, and lovers.

These positive and negative threads of human interaction are in tension with each other. As the balance tips one way or the other, so goes the fate of the world. [5]

(4) Taken to it’s furthest logical extreme, The Type O theory of EI (and Love) suggests that one of the ways the world will become a better place (more peaceful and more wholesome) will be through Type O people. Especially if your sense of what’s wrong with the world can be boiled down to something like “not enough EI.” And such people will likely be good at functioning as teachers, as lovers, as leaders and will likely strike others as being relatively therapeutic.

Concrete Examples: Rogers and Rosenberg

To the best of my knowledge, Carl Rogers is the most famous person with the second highest degree of emotional intelligence in recorded history, surpassed only by Marshall Rosenberg. [6] (Like Socrates and Plato, Rosenberg was one of Rogers’ students.) Both of their lives are supporting evidence for everything I’ve written so far.

Carl Rogers was a psychologist who researched and popularized the emotionally-intelligent idea that telling other people what to do, giving them advice, and reassuring them wasn't necessarily a great way to help them grow, heal, and become unstuck. Though Rogers' primary focus was on one-on-one interactions and psychotherapy, he also applied this idea to reducing intergroup tension around the world. Once, he helped facilitate a group discussion involving people from all sides of the troubles — Irish, British, Protestant, Catholic — in 1972. After 16 hours of facilitated discussion, the group found itself much more tolerant of each other. The group continued to meet on their own, and worked to facilitate their own discussion groups. One participant remarked that if there had been a group discussion on every corner, the troubles would have ended. Copies of the film made of this discussion (The Steel Shutter) were destroyed by the extremists on both sides because of the radical solution it offered.

Rogers once said that he viewed his forays into tension reduction by being (extremely) emotionally intelligent like the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk. The path towards developing the “technology” was clear, and the initial attempts were proof that the concept would work at a small scale. [7] He said it would take public will. Which makes me immediately think that the way to get the public to go along with something like this will likely be the work of another Type O person.

Further evidence for the Type O theory can be found in the life of Marshall Rosenberg.

Rosenberg took Rogers’ approach, added in his own insights, and then dedicated his life to teaching people how to be more emotionally intelligent. He flew around the world promoting EI, or what he called Non-Violent Communication. Rosenberg was so emotionally intelligent he could enable reconciliation between parents who molested or abused their children and those children, or waring tribes that hated each other for decades. In fact, Rosenberg got so far as to perceive all people as trying to express two general things: please, and thank you. Only much of the time we distort these messages before they leave our bodies, and in some cases, these messages get so distorted they cause a lot of pain and trauma.

As you might imagine Rosenberg was a popular writer and speaker. Rogers was quite popular in his day, and was once ranked as the second most influential psychologist, after Sigmund "I never learned to think critically about what I was doing" Freud. Just like The Wire, it is rare to hear a negative review about Rogers and Rosenberg, or their work.

Through group mediation, individual counseling, films, lectures, group workshops, books, and natural interaction Rogers and Rosenberg were able to pass on what they had learned. (Dale Carnegie, to a lesser extent, did something similar in the lectures and workshops he gave that eventually turned into How To Win Friends and Influence People. In fact, if you haven’t read that book, reading it is in my opinion, one of the easiest things you can do to raise your own EI.) They were able to pass on their learnings, to some degree, to most everyone who came into contact with them, provided the people they were talking to and interacting with were open enough.

As for the rest of us..

All of us are potential Type O people. Initially the size of pool to whom we are “Type O” (i.e. to whom we can help raise their EI) starts off small. Or possibly non-existent, if we haven’t been exposed to the right material and ways of being, which might make our own level of EI low. But should we be interested in raising our EI, the size of that pool of people to whom we can connect can grow. At a certain point, “connecting with others” turns into an interest in being growth-facilitating, which the evidence suggests is the starting point for becoming a Type O person.

If we take the broad historical view, becoming more emotionally intelligent only gets easier with time, as we can rely on those who have come before us to act as guides. Rene Descartes would have had to have been 10 orders of magnitude better at introspecting if he had wanted to become more emotionally intelligent -- he would have had to work most everything out for himself.

In the course of my research and explorations, I found the following four books to be the most helpful in becoming more emotionally intelligent: How to Win Friends and Influence People, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, On Becoming a Person, and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. All of these books form a coherent whole; each contains a piece of the larger puzzle. Each is highly recommended.

Further thoughts

That’s my first draft of the Type O theory. Here are some further things I've learned:

  • No one becomes more emotionally intelligent overnight. It takes time. Especially if you are used to doing well in school.

  • While the path towards greater emotional intelligence and personal growth includes learning more book-knowledge, one thing I've found is that it often involves realizing the "same" facts more deeply. (Sort of like how you can come to many different understandings of the phrase "The brain is complex" if you study psychology or neuroscience.)

  • If you are curious, you can (disconnected) pieces of what Type O people are like in the writings of Eric Fromm, George Valiant, as well as the accounts of post-teens human development, including in Loevinger’s stages of Ego Development. That being said, I found studying the lives and works of Carl Rogers, Marshall Rosenberg and Virgina Satir to be more instructive.

  • There will be a link in this bullet point when my post about how I'm specifically defining EI is ready for reading.

  • Sadly, in the same way that listening to Man in the Mirror doesn't make you a more introspective or better person, reading Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence doesn't do too much to raise your emotional intelligence. At its best, it promotes an abstract-intellectual understanding of (some definition of) EI. If abstract-intellectual understandings were solely what it took to raise a person's EI, academia would be a more wholesome version of burning man and therapy would have solved the world's problems already.



[0] Astute readers will note that this point assumes that being able to communicate in a blame-free way is part of how I define EI.

[1] While details about how I'm defining EI here are in the works (in the form of another post), here's the quick story: that which make a person unable to hear feedback and grow from it stem from not being sensitive to how one's brain is operating. This insensitivity generally bleeds over into not being too emotionally intelligent in the grand scheme of things.

[2] I'm speculating here, but the difference between Type O love and lower EI love might very well be similar to the difference between the following groups of songs: Anima, Aguas de Marco, While My Guitar Gently Weeps (emblematic of higher EI) and You Belong with Me.

[3] The unifying thread of this “fractal scar” is that all of these negative things involve, to greatly varying degrees, denying the emotional reality of the other person. What most people don’t know is that reassurance is often the least extreme version of this.

[4] See The History of Childhood, by Lloyd DeMause for an analysis of historical trends in child-rearing literature and evidence for this idea. If you happen to find a self-help book published before 1925, you’ll likely find references to the metaphor of children as “adorable little savages.” I found it in L.E. Bisch's wonderfully titled Be Glad You’re Neurotic.

[5] Especially when you factor in my hypothesis that A) people’s tendency to reason towards conclusions that aren’t supported by the facts at hand, and B) people’s tendency to self-justify their decisions and behavior, both come from learning to protect their ego. From what or from whom, you might ask? From their under-emotionally-intelligent parents and (to a lesser extent) their teachers.)

[6] Virgina Satir is up there too. However, I have not yet encountered an account of her working with groups of people outside of the context of family-based psychotherapy, and so she only makes it into the footnotes of this post. I highly recommend her writings too, namely The New Peoplemaking.

[7] See On Encounter Groups and Carl Rogers On Personal Power for more information.

Lastly, if you wanted more neuroscience in this post, rest assured A General Theory of Love is in my pile of books to read, but alas, I haven’t gotten to it yet. Perhaps I’ll review it when I get to it. Also, the book links in this post / on this blog are Amazon affiliate links.

Thanks for reading!

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