Can There be an Emotionally Intelligent Society?

I found an intriguing answer to this question when I made a recent visit to the picturesque seaside city of San Sebastian, capital of Gipuskoako, one of three provinces that make up the Basque area of Spain. San Sebastian also happens to be a world-class center for the development of social and emotional intelligence, due to an ambitious initiative to upgrade these human aptitudes not just in schools, but also in families, communities, and businesses.

Thirty to forty percent of schools there have curricula in social/emotional learning, and more are being phased in. There are emotional intelligence programs for parents and families, even communities. And businesses in the region are incorporating emotional intelligence into their leadership training.

All this has come about largely through the efforts of a visionary leader, Jose Ramon Guridi Urrejola, the Minister for Technology and Innovation of the province.  At his behest local scholars, educators, business people and community organizers are setting out to create a socially and emotionally intelligent society.  I was impressed by the progress they are making.
The scope of this initiative can be seen in a series of publications issued by the Ministry:

  • “Emociones y trabajo,” which focuses on emotional intelligence and work, and in organizations
  • “Necesidades socio-emocionales en contextos socio-comunitarios,” which asseses the social and emotional needs of communities and society
  • “Emociones y educacion,” fostering social/emotional learning for children in schools, and for family life.

(For those who read Spanish, the books are available at

When I met Mr. Guridi, he told me that his inspiration had been a question I ask in my book Emotional Intelligence: If emotional literacy is so crucial for a child’s success in life, then why don’t we teach it to every child?
And so Mr. Guridi has followed this insight far beyond my own imagination.

I wonder if there are other parts of the world where similar efforts are underway – if you are aware of any, please let me know, at

12 thoughts on “Can There be an Emotionally Intelligent Society?

  1. That is so inspirational – to see that leaders are taking action to help kids and adults be more socially & emotionally aware.

    It should be made the standard for all school curriculum at least. Obviously it costs money, and requires a lot of thought, but it would truly make a lot of people so much happier.

    The more aware people are of their own role in society, the more stable our social environment will become.

    Who knows – maybe even world peace hinges on the concept of emotional and social intelligence… (I’m allowed to dream right ;o)

    P.S. Mr Goleman, I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but your books are truly eye-opening. Thank you for sharing all of this with us.

  2. This notion of an emotionally – or socially – intelligent society has intrigued me for a long time. My question is, do you think that such a society can be formed – or can grow – intellectually, emotionally and socially, if it is connected, not in the flesh, but in the virtual world of the internet?

  3. It’s so encouraging to hear about a government official committed to developing social and emotional intelligence in schools and throughout society, Jose Ramon Guridi Urrejola, Spain’s minister for innovation and technology in this province you write about. For those of us who do not speak Spanish, are there resources for more information about this visionary leader?

    Speaking of leadership, I have just finished your Harvard Business Review article on “What Makes a Leader” and found very interesting the insights that workplace training programs aimed at developing emotional intelligence tend to focus on the neocortex functions of logic and conceptualizing when the research shows that the limbic system governing emotional intelligence thrives on motivation, extended practice and feedback.

    The leaders that I teach are ages 5 to 12 but we see for ourselves every day at WINGS after school programs that acquiring social and emotional capabilities demands systematically building these skills with constant encouragement and steady feedback. Our tentative findings show that it takes 2 years, with 510 hours a year, to develop these skills in the five categories you describe.

  4. I wonder if emotional intelligence will help the children in Guipuzcoa adapt to the sick society where they are growing up.
    Did you know, Mr. Goleman, that the Basque country is the only region in Europe where hundreds of politicians live protected by private security and policemen 24 hours a day? They have been been threatened by the terrorist group ETA, which has already murdered nearly one thousand people in the last 30 years. Did you know, Mr Goleman, that not even one of those threatened people belongs to the political party of José Ramón Guridi? That’s because Guridi and the other nationalists share most of their political objectives with ETA; they even rule some townhalls together.
    If there is an emotionally intelligent society, that is not the Basque society.

  5. What impreesses me most with this exmple is that it demonstrates the profound influence local government has in shaping of everyday life. And the enormous potential for change that exists when enlighted individuals commit themselves to serve the common good of their communities…local government, “the front lines of life”.

    I do believe that non-radical faith is mutually reinforcing with social/emotional progress. Said another way, faith-based organization and public sector initiatives to improve EI of society can catylize each other. It is remarkable to me how consistent many EI principles are with Christian theology.

  6. Danny, the concept of an emotionally and socially intelegent society is a great goal. However, I see some real problems with it. Who would be responsible for teaching? I happen to be blind. To date, there is very little being done to sincerely include the disabled into the mainstream of society. My life included discrimination, segregation and looking in from the outside. Who is going to be responsible for teaching the social and emotional needs of protected groups such as the blind?

  7. While not exactly in the same vein as the aforementioned educational approaches in Spain, it is worth noting that the government of Bhutan has made significant strides to legitimatize emotional and social wellbeing by their ambitious initiatives to measure the country’s success in terms of “Gross National Happiness,” rather than the materially-based indicators of “Gross National Product.”

  8. One of the great innovators of emotional literacy (although he did not call it that) was the founder of Summerhill School in England, A.S. Neill. Summerhill was established in 1924 and in spite of a number of attempts by governments of various persuasions to close it down, it is flourishing today.

    One of Summerhill’s fundamental principles is “Freedom to grow emotionally”. No wonder governments were terrified. The concept of an emotionally aware child is truly frightening to those who control our ‘education’ systems. We can only value what we understand and this is why self-awareness (of our emotional selves) is crucial to our long-term wellbeing.

    Ken Fraser
    Emotional Literacy Forum
    Canberra, Australia

  9. Dear Mr. Goleman,
    As we said at the time, we found your visit to San Sebastián most gratifying, particularly as it gave us the opportunity to share our experience for a whole day with you and your coleagues Mr Weissberg and Mss Lantieri. And, as you know, our experience was largely inspired by you and much of what you have published. It was most encouraging and motivating for our project, for me personally and for the entire project team to have such a favorable opinion from you, because we consider you as a world authority on the subject. And our thanks to you once again for mentioning us in your blog: it is an honor both for the Department of Innovation and for Gipuzkoa as a whole. I would also like to remind you that we are entirely at your disposal, if you feel that sharing our experience would be useful for the development of Emotional Intelligence in the world. We would be most happy to share, particularly as we believe emotional intelligence, based on listening and empathy and on the consideration of people as differentiated, free beings, lays the foundations for far-reaching social change.

  10. Dear Mr. Deerin,

    Thank you for your comment. We are more than happy to share our trial-and-learn process with any interested parties anywhere in the world.

    It’s true that we normally publish in Basque and Spanish (the 2 official languages in the Basque Country), but if you are interested in a particular aspect of our experience (educational system, family, social, community or business world), we could translate specific documents, or summaries of them, into English, and if you are interested in finding out more we’d be pleased to have you visit San Sebastián, where we could give you—in English—a better idea of what we do.

    Although no definitive decision has yet been taken, we are currently looking into the possibility of publishing our experience in Basque, Spanish and English.”

  11. Mr Goleman
    Your have inspired me to be more in tune with my feelings and have helped me through some of the most darkest times in my life. i thank you for that, your amazing

  12. Mr. Goleman

    if You have nticed for this question of your’s there are 11 responses. But not one from you. Are you yourself a bit disconnected ? If so, why?

    Plz. do note that this is a Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence share forum created and manitained by you & u inspire many and need to do so too…. Not criticism let’s enhance…

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