Are girls more emotionally intelligent than boys?

Harry might have his name in the titles, he might be the one who will find himself facing off against Voldemort, alone. Nevertheless, Hermione is clearly and indisputably the more well rounded character.

Hermione has the sort of emotional depth, poise, and literacy that the Rons and Harrys of the world rarely achieve. A lot of this comes from the nurturing roles that young women have traditionally been expected to play in our culture. Girls often get better training early on in how to understand their own emotions and to relate to the feelings of others.

So, no, girls are not inherently more emotionally intelligent than boys, but they often get a lot more training a lot faster in emotional maturity than their male counterpoints. When a girl does something irrational, no one says, “Girls will be girls”. Society expects them to be wiser, faster, so often they are.

Hermione makes better decisions than Harry and Ron because of her EI. 

Hermione is just as brave and compassionate as she is bookish and clever. She is more aware of her emotions than Harry and also has better control over how she reacts to her feelings. Because she has more awareness and more control, she makes better decisions. And it is the decisions we make in our lives – and not how “smart” we are – that determines if we live good lives or not. Hermione can recognize what she feels and why she feels that way, and that gives her so much insight in how to interact with other people and the world around her.

People who are not taught to use their emotions wisely tend to be much less happy and more destructive. Just think of Harry’s cousin Dudley. He wasn’t born feeling entitled, fearful, arrogant, slothful, and greedy, he was raised to be that way. And Harry’s worst moments come in response to the cruelty of his aunt and uncle and cousin.

Having said that, I have to admit that Harry is no slouch, himself. In fact, he deals with issues ranging from the loss of his parents, to childhood abuse, to bullying, to being tortured by his teachers, to repeatedly stopping armageddon, and he does so with a profound grace and balance.  For a fictional character, Harry makes a pretty amazing role model, and he’s flawed so he’s also relatable. But, despite his strong character and his ability to stave off the return of the Dark Lord, he’s always portrayed as being a notch or two below Hermione.

And then there’s goofy and affable Ron Weasley, with his “emotional range of a teaspoon” (to quote Hermione). He’s a nice guy, but pretty basic in his emotional vocabulary. He’d know if he felt mad, sad, or glad, or hungry, but that’s really about it. Like your stereotypical teenaged boy: if he is angry, he won’t have the tools to calm himself down (that’s Hermione’s or Harry’s job); if he is sad, he doesn’t have the tools to gain wisdom from his sorrow. As with a lot of youth, Ron’s emotional well being is extremely dependant on those around him. He has little internal guidance. This is not uncommon or unhealthy in teens. However, if like a lot of people, he’s still this emotionally immature at 30, he’s going to have problems. Maybe Hermione or his parents will get him up to code?

Can you really teach a boy like Ron Weasley Emotional Intelligence?

Yes, we can teach (and be taught) higher levels of emotional intelligence. Sometimes quite rapidly and in some absurdly simple ways. Go through a chart of emoticons or a magazine looking at faces some day, and you’ll see that even a little bit of learning and curiosity goes a long way. We can’t always guess what a facial expression means emotionally, but the more emotional language we have and the more we are curious, the more EI we will have.

Studies show that people live better lives and have more satisfying relationships when they learn how to identify and name what they are feeling. You’ve probably noticed that when you are struggling a lot with your emotions, you aren’t very granular. When in a big bout of depression or anxiety, we often can’t break one big chunk of emotion up into a lot of identifiable grains. “I’m depressed” people say as if they only ever have one big feeling. We all feel that way, sometimes. Luckily, it’s a fiction: no one, not even the saddest person on earth only ever feels exactly the same way all of the time. No one. There are always shades and there is almost always hope. As surprising as it sounds, the more alert and curious we are about the variations in our mood and those of others, the healthier we will become. 

Here’s the sort of granular and very specific statement Real World Hermione’s can make about their feelings during times of trouble, sorrow, or stress: “I was sad when I woke up, really sad, because my parents are divorcing, but I had slept well so I wasn’t tired. Sad and tired is worse than just sad, after all. Then I was mad because my big sister used all the hot water in the shower and I was frustrated because I had to wait so long to get into the bathroom. But when I went down for breakfast, dad made eggs, so I didn’t have to eat cereal and for a minute I felt grateful and satisfied. After breakfast, I cried in the car, because I really don’t know what’s going to happen with our house, and….” That sure sounds a lot more true and accurate than simply saying, “I’m depressed.” Yes: sometimes we feel depressed and sometimes that’s a huge problem. I’m not saying people don’t suffer immensely sometimes. What experience and science tells us over and over again is that the more granular and specific we are about our feelings, the less of a problem they are and the better we deal with them.

My daily emotional intelligence practice 

Nearing forty, I can get that granular, that specific, about how my body and mind feel on a moment by moment basis. I can sort out what’s going on inside my body that is affecting my emotions and what’s happening emotionally that’s affecting my physical well-being. I can sort out how much of what I’m feeling is tied to things other people are doing (or not doing) and how much is tied to choices I’m making or have made (it’s usually the later). And I can almost always use this data to make decisions that positively affect my mood, help a client, nurture my wife, or engage my son. That is probably the most useful skill I have ever learned how to do.

The ground work for my daily emotional practice is actually physical exercise and enough sleep. Amazingly enough, taking care of our bodies is the single best thing we can do to improve our emotional condition. It is also something we can do regardless of the decisions other people make. The second part of my practice is I scan my physical and emotional feelings all the time. The scan doesn’t always help me make the right adjustment – I get often get stuck or make mistakes – but I get into rhythm more often than I would without the scan. After all, the world will send the odd dementor our way to sap our souls, but it is our choice to bring out our wands or not.

Real world Hermiones; real world Ron’s

Every once in a while I meet a real world Hermione,  a young child or youth – usually a young woman, though not always – who understands emotions at a profound level. When I meet a real world Hermione, I always feel amazed and curious and impressed.

I meet a lot more real world Rons just like I was when I was a kid. These are young people with beginning level emotional intelligence who are doing their best given the pressures they face. Do they have the emotional range of a teaspoon? Let”s not frame it that way. The truth is that real-world Rons actually feel many, many things. They have emotional depth and breadth. They just doesn’t know how to name their feelings or what to do with them yet.

Ron isn’t shallow, he has many emotions, deep emotions. Sometimes he’s elated to be on such exciting adventures. Sometimes he’s sad because so many tragic things happen to people he cares about. Often, because he is a teenager (and he lives in a chaotic school), he feels overwhelmed. Generally, he’s also madly in love with Hermione. And, of course, he spends a great deal of his time baffled, befuddled, and bewildered – his primary role is to provide comic relief, after all. As a character, he is not actually limited in emotional capacity. Ron’s emotional intelligence is limited only in awareness and practice. Just like a real person.

So I figure that the first thing we need to do for the Ron’s of the world (including our inner-Ron’s living in our guts) is to teach them to distinguish between more than hunger, anger, and happiness. Let’s teach them  the difference between anxiety, nervousness, excitement, and too much soda. After all, the more a young person can identify what they are feeling with clarity, the better shot they have at truly understanding themselves and the people around them.

And then, like Hermione, they become braver – better friends to themselves and to others.