Jamaican culture is full of rich history, lively music, and warm hospitality. But we have a complex current of aggression in our society. We are seen as cantankerous! Our default responses resemble emotional dysregulation, a mental health symptom where people can’t control emotions and feelings. Too often, we see ugly incidents that may have been better resolved rationally.

So it’s pretty obvious that we need some emotional intelligence to bring understanding, empathy, and resilience to our nation. Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the ability to recognize, understand, manage, and utilise emotions effectively. In Jamaican society, where social and economic challenges feed high levels of crime and social dysfunction, cultivating EI can help us build connections and positive change in communities.
Here are some ways we can cultivate emotional intelligence in ourselves.

Self-Awareness: Seek to understand how the things that make us who we are as individuals shape our personalities. Our values and beliefs can help us align our actions with our thinking.  We must recognise that emotions in individuals are responses to environmental and social cues rather than an individual human failing. When we understand that emotions are responses to stimuli we can begin to acknowledge and manage our emotions as we experience them and make better choices in how we respond.

Self-Regulation: This means consciously choosing how we physically react to stimuli that triggers emotional responses in us.  Jamaicans need to learn this art to  manage our fiery temperaments. In our culture, aggression is the go to response to stress or adversity. Learning to pause, reflect, and respond with intentionality is a rich skill to reduce impulsive actions that contribute to cycles of physical/psychological violence and crime.

Empathy: We must learn to feel for ourselves and our fellow human beings. Empathy is the key component of emotional intelligence. It is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, to  “put ourselves in another's shoe”. We must look at their circumstances and challenges before we judge them through the lens of our own reality. That gives us a way to connect to our common humanity whatever our backgrounds.  In Jamaica, fostering empathy can help break down the barriers that feed our aggression in difficult situations. By empathizing with struggles that impact others, we become more caring and are able to  build stronger, more supportive communities.

We must also accept that commitment is the driving force behind positive change. Individually and collectively, Jamaicans must commit to changing the toxic interactions we embrace as “our culture” and work for a common cultural shift in processing and acting on our emotions. We must embrace self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy to build emotional intelligence. It will help us transform our social narrative, and create a culture of understanding, unselfish collaboration, and collective progress. In adversity, emotional intelligence can become a superpower for positive change in the Jamaican experience.