Functional and emotional illiteracy, a dangerous combination

Functional and emotional illiteracy, a dangerous combination

It was September 8, 2019 when, on the occasion of the International Literacy Day, alarming data were released: in our country functional illiteracy affects 47% of the population .

According to data collected by UNESCO, 85% of the world adult population is  literate , however a good portion of this same population shows a very limited form of  literacy  (functional illiteracy).

The term functional illiteracy  indicates the inability to effectively use reading, writing and calculating skills in everyday situations – thus translates into the inability to understand, evaluate and use the information collected in today’s society.

According to the Human Development Report 2009, the lowest concentration of  functional illiterates  is recorded in Norway (7.9%) while the highest in Italy (47%). A more recent estimate (OECD-Piaac data from 2016) states that functional illiteracy in Italy reaches 27.9%.

In this particular historical period, the data on functional illiteracy seem to reflect a very dramatic reality. The confusion and alarming episodes that are characterizing the covid-19 pandemic could be a reflection of functional illiteracy.

On the one hand, the institutions are unable to send clear and coherent messages and, on the other, almost half of the Italian people are unable to accurately understand the “content” of the message!

It is important not to create any feud between population and institution. Functional illiteracy can be placed at any level of society.

Characteristics of the functional illiterate

Even though functional illiteracy seems to mainly affect the over 55 population,  it is not like that at all . A further investigation states that one in six young Italians does not fully understand the meaning of what they read .

The report also highlighted the weight of social networks on this situation: it was found that a part of the young people considered are unable to interpret or read between the lines of a text. The same difficulty is also found in developing one’s own critical thinking after reading. Here are the  characteristics of functional illiterates .

  • It is incapable of adequately understanding information texts and materials
  • Very superficial knowledge of scientific, political, social and economic phenomena.
  • Tendency to generalize from single unrepresentative episodes.
  • Wide use of stereotypes.
  • Wide use of prejudices (e.g. xenophobia, male chauvinism …)
  • Poor critical sense.
  • Tendency to blindly believe the information received.
  • Inability to distinguish between fake news and true news.
  • Difficulty distinguishing reliable sources from doubtful sources.
  • Low productivity in the workplace.
  • Poor civic sense.

For statistics,  functional illiterates  are more prone to commit criminal or subversive acts, are more prone to dictatorial communication, rather than looking for equal and mutual exchange.

Emotional and functional illiteracy: a dangerous combination

We have repeatedly spoken of the importance of correct emotional literacy. As children we should learn to read, write and understand ourselves and our emotions.

Those who have not learned to validate their emotions will tend to be frustrated. It is well known, frustration turns to anger and can turn any person into a ticking time bomb ready to explode at the first perceived injustice.

In addition, a good chunk of  frustrated emotional illiterates has an outward-facing locus of control. A person with an external locus of control believes that for every misfortune there is someone to blame.

Typical thoughts:

  • if I can’t find a job, it’s because this company is rotten
  • if I am fired, it is because the company has not been able to appreciate me
  • if I missed the train it’s because my friend kept me on the phone too long …
  • etc …

If we add to this a pinch of neuroticism or worse, psychoticism, we will have real cognitive distortions .

The emotional illiterate who cannot recognize or regulate his emotions has an  impoverished inner life . It will be easy for him to fall in the  hunt for the greaser , in the  sensible hunt for the guilty … because he does not know  tolerance , does not know what empathy is and does not try to evaluate the facts from several points of view.

In the last period, scrolling through the Facebook message boards, one can notice a widespread and total lack of the ability to regulate one’s emotions .

The emotions that appear most often on Facebook posts are anger, hatred, resentment and frustration but it is not the emotion itself that worries as much as its  altered dimension . Behind every comment of hatred, anger and resentment, there is a lack of emotional regulation, there is a tendency to action (which often results in aggression ) and  there is total blindness to the other .

To worry, therefore, is not only the  phenomenon of fake news and functional illiteracy … but the combination of two types of alterations.

The emotional illiterate who is also functional illiterate:

  • He cannot question himself
  • Nor does he try to consider the facts from the other’s point of view
  • He is blinded by his emotions that he cannot contain (nor understand the real origins)
  • He believes he is the only absolute custodian of the truth
  • He cannot confront himself
  • He feels better than the others
  • Protects his position with absolute conviction, without “but” and without “if”
  • It lives on illusions to hold on to
  • Suffers the media effect of the hottest topics (vaccines, immigrations …)
  • He has an extreme opinion on everything
  • He doesn’t know what tolerance is
  • He doesn’t know what it means to have a real mutual exchange
  • The only emotions that transpire are related to the dimension of anger
  • Discredit your neighbor

I repeat, it is not anger that is worrying. We can all feel anger in the face of injustices (especially in times of criticality), but what makes the situation get out of hand is the marked emotional dysregulation  which includes a tendency towards impulsive action  ; action ranging from insult to various feats, ranging from hooliganism to bullying.

When the  emotional tone is constantly raised , aggression becomes normal practice. Also in this case it is necessary to think on several levels, because in the upper social spheres this tendency can turn into authoritarianism in opposition to the subversivism of the people  (two different sides of the same coin).