Social & Emotional Intelligence: What a Village in Bali Can Teach Us

Little Balinese Dancer © TCousineau 2013

It is a wonder to behold the bright eyes of children. 

My daughter and I are traveling with friends and just spent five days on the island of Bali in Indonesia. Through a local bike tour and the word of mouth of local residents we were able to meet and greet several families.  “Hello! Hello! Hello!” shouted the children as we passed them by and held their hands up for high fives.

The bike guide introduced us to his extended family living in a village between fields of rice paddies. They were gathered for an upcoming family wedding, with the women sitting together in earnest preparation. They opened their doors to us and shared a plate of food. They were  kind and generous and the exchange was pause for reflection. It made me think about how we live our rather isolated lives back home in the US, where we are not particularly tied to community, nature or tradition. Perhaps more striking were the children. Running and playing or helping in the home. No technology, no gadgets. Just silly kid antics and rueful smiles.

Balinese Family Preparing Wedding Feast © TCousineau 2013

Perhaps it was serendipitous that I was in the process of writing a guest post on nurturing social intelligence in children. How would one write about social and emotional intelligence about Balinese children?  These children are not distracted by TV or smartphones, or influenced by video games, violent movies or sarcastic tween sitcoms. If these village children were to watch a TV set or movie, it would be a family event, a shared experience. There is no war or famine here. Even with a relatively high unemployment rate, families take care of each other. There were very few beggars. School children could be seen daily, marching in groups down the road, seemingly self-organized in some sort of drill, sometimes slowing down traffic. As school let out they would hop onto their mopeds, typically two or three onboard, and zoom off to the local stand for snacks. Hanging out and snacking… that, perhaps, is universal.

For my guest post I had formulated 6 ways in which can adults can nurture social intelligent children:

  • Be a calming presence
  • Show kindness
  • Appreciate diversity
  • Demonstrate mutual respect
  • Be joyful and show appreciation/gratitude
  • Identify core values

Balinese Boys Playing © TCousineau 2013In a matter of a few days, all were observed on the island of Bali. It’s as if those of us who live in industrialized nations have to remind ourselves constantly about the golden rule. We read parenting books, go to workshops on how to raise healthy kids, or watch a talk show; this advice would simply not be meaningful here. At least not yet. In Bali, a philosophy of kindness and compassion is already the way. They live each and every day with respect for family, the many life-giving and destructive gods and goddesses, and the cycles of nature. How far we have strayed from our ancient kinship roots.

Sometimes the gift of travel comes in unexpected ways and causes one to drop all sense of expectation and expertise. It’s humbling and enlightening. So I took my six tips on nurturing social and emotional intelligence and applied them to what I noticed about the beautiful people of Bali.

Be a calming presence.  Even with the constant buzz of mopeds, people here are low-key and relaxed. They seem to move with the rhythms of nature. They easily tolerate traffic jams, the rains, and clueless tourists. Each day offerings are made to the Hindu gods. One must be mindful not to step on hand woven dish of flowers and incense that can be found long the sidewalks or in front of a Hindu garden statue. Imagine if we took the time to pray and give thanks, not once but several times a day?

Show kindness. Soft spoken and polite, the people we met were friendly and welcoming. The children were happy and silly. The staff at the bungalow were generous and helpful, and it wasn’t just because it was their job. Each person made me smile and I found myself truly delighted every day.

Appreciate diversity.  Just as diverse as jungle is in the surrounding landscape around rice paddies, it seemed that the Balinese are quite accustomed to the infusion of religions and peoples. They are proud of their heritage, craftsmanship and local economy and are happy to share in their customs.

Demonstrate mutual respect. In Bali this seems to go without saying. We became used to taking off our shoes at the entryways and began to appreciate the sacredness of place. It was comforting to behold that each family compound had a temple, central courtyard, and rooms to house multiple generations.

Balinese Girls at Dance Rehearsal © TCousineau 2013Be joyful and show appreciation/gratitude. It is the way of life here.  Simple and pure.  The only part of my post on children that I could possible replicate here, after spending time in Bali is this:

Most of the time feelings of happiness or joy occur in the small, subtle moments of life – when children are wholeheartedly involved in things they are passionate about, when they feel comfort in a particular place, and when they are around people who love them for who they are. In those moments, the critical voice of self or the fear of rejection by others is absent… [You can] create rituals that reflect on such joyful moments. This helps children develop a sense of self and recognize the gifts of daily life.

Identify core values.  It became clear that we in the west have lost a sense of core values, in part because we have lost the art of ritual and sense of connection to earth and family. How simple it would be if we could remind ourselves each day what and who we are grateful for, acknowledge a higher power, and appreciate the connection to earth and sky.

If there is social intelligence to be found, it was here in Bali.

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