COP26 is knocking on the doors of our classrooms (Part 2 of 3)

Caption: Coastal birds move with the times and with the tides, their familiarity with these cycles informing their responsiveness. How can we nurture our own responsiveness and insure it does not lose sight of the wider system of which we are part? Photo and caption by Glen Cousquer

In this second part of a three-part series, Glen Cousquer argues for suspending our “thinking minds” to create and hold room for our “heart-minds and ecological-minds and thereby develop emotional and spiritual intelligence and why, in the face of climate collapse, this needs to be prioritised”. In part one, Dr Cousquer provided insightful avenues to explore for incorporating a sensitivity to the climate crisis in our teaching spaces. Glen Cousquer lectures on and coordinates the MSc and MVetSci programmes in One Health and Conservation Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Part 2: Nurturing Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence

In part one of this three-part blog on how we can bring COP26 into our teaching, we considered some potential avenues to explore. In this second bog, we explore the value and practicalities of nurturing other ways of knowing and forms of intelligence – more specifically  emotional intelligence (EQ) and spiritual intelligence (SQ).

For the purposes of this feature, these two forms of intelligence are to be taken as invitations to integrate our awareness of our embodied and felt (emotional or affective) selves and our awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependencies into our learning. Literacy in these areas can thus be seen as higher-level skills that inform how we develop our systems thinking and contribute to co-creative projects. They are graduate attributes we can choose to nurture.

The short answer to why emotional and spiritual intelligence is of critical importance is because it informs how we pay attention to the world and how this can subsequently inform our actions. The Scottish applied philosopher and chess Grand Master, Jonathan Rowson, emphasises the importance of developing a deeper appreciation for how our inner worlds influence our outer worlds. In a recent interview, he articulated why it is so important for us to learn to move nimbly between these worlds in order to better appreciate how they inform each other. In doing so, he explores some of the gaps and disconnects that we need to learn to bridge:

Speaking of the climate crisis, he says:

“The gap between a single person and this massive global challenge … isn’t even simply human; it’s superhuman, and it’s into the atmosphere and so forth.  …  The crisis of climate change, in particular, is a crisis of disconnection between the facts and the feelings. We know something is true; we don’t feel that it’s true. We don’t live as if it’s true. There is what you might call a kind of stealth denial. We speak as if we believed it, but it’s not obvious from our behaviour and the way we vote and what we campaign for, how we talk, that we accept this as a real problem.”

Addressing the disconnect between what we know and feel to be true requires us to listen more deeply and to allow emotional intelligence (our heart-minds) to contribute to the work at hand. It may therefore be useful to contemplate the extent to which we exclude or discourage emotional contributions, component-elements and connections from academic work. Why do we allow this? How does this reductive abstraction impact our exploration and development of a “care ethic” or what Aldo Leopold described as a “land ethic”? And how can we allow other ways of knowing (knowing of the hand and the heart, in addition to knowing of the head) back in? How can we provide our students with the skills to sit with and work through these emotions and the discomfort that accompanies them?

These are not easy questions. Many of us shy away from discomfort. This is especially true of the discomfort associated with subjects that are emotionally charged and that may give rise to strong feelings. I would therefore invite you to consider whether encountering these feelings, acknowledging and sharing them might be something we can nurture. This, arguably starts with modelling these practices. We can recognise, at the outset, that we are venturing into more difficult territory and that we are ourselves feeling uncomfortable because we are concerned that we may miss something and deliver a miseducative rather than an educative experience. By practising vulnerability and making our intentions clear, we can invite student to help us gauge the level of challenge and  ensure learners stay in the stretch zone.

Imagine how transformative it can be for students to be offered the opportunity to learn to navigate such challenging territory? I know from my own teaching across disciplines (and in particular the course I deliver on Innovative Approaches to Health Challenges Across Disciplines) that this can help us deliver on one of the University’s key values: that of being “a place of transformation and self improvement driven to achieve benefit for individuals, communities, societies and our world”. Our students then come to appreciate that emotional growth and literacy, informed by an awareness of our inescapable interdependencies, are learning outcomes that will help us navigate the complex terrain that unfolds at any COP conference. They will also come to appreciate the crucial role that deep listening (including empathic listening) will play in delivering the futures we want to see. This pathway to transformative change is something that the UN now recognises and fully endorses following its recent collaborative work with Otto Scharmer and the Presenting Institute and that we now need to start integrating into our own teaching so that our students possess the necessary forms of literacy that will allow them to contribute to co-creating this future.

Further reading:

  1. Hello Future
  2. Building Systems Leadership Capabilities with UNDP

Stay tuned next Monday for part three of this blog series: Walking, the COP26 pilgrimage and the development of ecological awareness

picture of editor/producerGlen Cousquer

Glen is a recipient of this year’s EUSA Outstanding Commitment to Social Justice and Sustainability Award and the 2020 Social Responsibility and Sustainability Changemaker Awards in recognition of his work on sustainability across the University, including the embedding of deep listening and sustainability into postgraduate training courses for healthcare professionals.

Glen’s research into the health and welfare of pack animals on expedition and across the global mountain tourism industry led to the development of new industry standards and the development of multispecies awareness-based Action Research methodologies to help deliver emergent futures. This work has informed the development of dialogical approaches to establishing communities of practice and inquiry, change theory and practice for sustainability as well as more recent work on ecological pilgrimage that has led to the publication of a new guidebook on the Way of St Cuthbert. Since February 2018, he has been lecturing on and coordinating the MSc and MVetSci programmes in One Health and Conservation Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

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