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The Hardwired Emotions

Eric Jensen in Teaching with Poverty in Mind says the emotions children are born with are SADNESS, JOY, DISGUST, ANGER, SURPRISE, and FEAR. What message does this send to teachers and peace educators?

The first thing that strikes me is that overwhelmingly the basic emotions we are born with are negative. All the emotional responses required for peaceful existence with others—sympathy, patience, forgiveness, humility, compassion, optimism, cooperation, and gratitude—are not innate but must be taught and learned. For many children these healthy emotional responses are learned from positive interactions with their family. But children growing up in dysfunctional families do not learn these responses. In school teachers may see such children as rude, uncaring, and disrespectful. When punished, they do not show “humility.” They do not know how to “forgive.” Often this leads to children being identified as “problems” or “having an attitude.” Jensen warns against labeling or blaming such students. Instead, every improper response is a teachable moment to model positive emotions.

Jensen suggests the following actions:

Embody respect: Give respect even if they seem not to deserve it. Use positive discipline.

Embed social skills: Model and practice at all levels how to meet and greet, take turns, work with a partner and in cooperative groups.

Be inclusive: Say “our school’ and “our class.” Celebrate effort as well as achievement. Have students set small reachable milestones. Build on our innate joy - celebrate learning in every class.

Read more about Jensen's work at

Some children's books to use:

The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper

Kindness to Share from A to Z by Todd & Peggy Snow

Find more at

Teach Peace Now
Teach Peace Now

We offer books, activities, lesson plans, and ideas that teachers, parents, and students can use to promote values, attitudes and behaviors which encourage non-violent resolution of conflict, respect for human rights, democracy, intercultural understanding and tolerance.


  1. Anger is one of our hardwired emotions. For our distant ancestors it was a way of calling up adrenaline, courage, and extra strength. Today living in peace with others requires us to hold in anger or find other ways to deal with it. You have provided one approach and some great links on this topic.

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