Publish at January 17 2022 Updated January 28 2022

Protective intelligence: learning to care

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"He who, by some alchemy knows how to extract from his heart, in order to recast them together, compassion, respect, need, patience, regret, surprise and forgiveness creates that atom called love."

Gibran Khalil Gibran Artist, Writer, Painter, Poet (1883 - 1931)

An activist and committed facilitator, Frédérique, sets up shop in the village street, watches for ideas and needs, supports projects, feeds initiative bearers. She tells me that our societies would lack "protective intelligence". I know or have heard of many forms of intelligence, collective, emotional, artificial and even place intelligence, but, not protective intelligence. I think to myself, "what a beautiful phrase that is." And I look for the meaning that could be behind these words carrying a great richness of evocation. It is possible to identify elements of response from the side of psychology but also by relying on societal anchors.

An orientation of the human spirit

Such a form of intelligence could be an orientation of the human spirit in which "taking care" would be central, perhaps joining in this the "theory of care" which is interested in the situation of women taking care of others. This function previously culturally assigned to women may well spread more widely and transform relationships between all people. Taking care is about the body, psychological well-being, safety of being.

It is probably the giving, the love for others the generosity of intention, the hospitality of ideas, the openness to novelty, the tolerance of difference that characterize this protective intelligence. There is also a part of instinct in favor of the less protected and a consideration for the most fragile and their situations that nourishes this intelligence. Contrary to those who believe in the law of the strongest, humanity is by nature empathetic. Without empathy, the little human would die within a few hours. The first signs of culture found in humans are neither the polished stone, nor the invention of fire, but the intervention towards one's neighbor to heal a leg or a broken rib. This empathy is consubstantial to us. Is protective intelligence a form of empathy?

It is perhaps on the side of positive psychology that it is possible to find theoretical foundations for this form of intelligence. It is then possible to summon the idea of cultivating a "developmental mindset" with Carol Dweck. This mindset is opposed to a fixist mindset that remains rooted in a view of reality without change or variation.

It is joyful to discover the healing power of Rebecca Shankland's gratitude, that gratitude that nurtures positive feelings in both the giver and the receiver. It is important to understand with Mathieu Ricard the power of compassion and the power of altruism, so much it fuels the happiness of each day or even to conduct appreciative surveys in the manner of David Cooperider and Ron Fry.

These investigations involve understanding the little things that are going right when everything seems to be going wrong around them, and then growing those weak signals, like so many strands of resilience. Each of these approaches in its own way looks for the highest potential in the other, rather than scoring, quantifying, measuring, gauging, or ranking them as "first in line." The protective intelligence would be an intelligence of non-judgment, of unconditional acceptance of the other. It is a path to follow to build social resilience in a fragmented society, cut off from nature, divided into narrow communities, increasingly blind to the ills that ravage the planet.

I see this intelligence as a "societal intelligence" that produces resilience to an ill-fated living together. It would be located in the most outlying territories, with a lot of pragmatism and far from the general speeches that make words lose their force. It strives to give back its letters of nobility to the practices of mutualization that consist in putting together what one alone would struggle to bring together to accomplish something greater than itself.

This is the legacy of the Resistance of this acute awareness that it is a matter of fighting against something abject, insidious that creeps more than on our territories, but, in the heart of our minds and our way of thinking the world. It is an ode to freedom, of which the solidarities of everyday life are the most powerful verses. In its political form it is a rediscovery of social democracy, which the managers have tried to unravel with conscience, explaining public policy after public policy that the cost is unbearable. Social democracy is an avenue to be rediscovered and preserved unceasingly.

Protective intelligence refers us to the protection of oneself against the loss of meaning that some feed into ideological identity or partisan aims, to the protection of others (think first of all of the "firsts-of-corvee"), to the protection of our family, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, but also the mass of strangers who keep the social and economic machine running, whom we sometimes cross without daring to look at them or talk to them anymore, and lastly, to the protection of nature, of which we are and which shelters us.

A global consciousness

This protective intelligence would give birth to a global consciousness. It would timely remind us that we are not mentally isolated but "immersed in a global human mental field of 'strength' and 'coherence'" (Nelson 2020). We know this intuitively when billions of people feel emotions when watching an event widely broadcast on screen (Olympic Games, natural disasters, New Year's Eve, etc.). This protective intelligence connects to something bigger than itself because it is turned towards others and the world. In this way it connects us and makes us more alive. It seeks ways to relieve and help, to build favorable times and spaces made of connections, negotiated solutions, constructive dialogues.

Reasons to learn

This form of intelligence challenges us in the very purposes of knowledge. What is the use of knowledge when this knowledge does not allow us to live better together, to change the destiny of the most fragile or at least to relieve them? Is the goal of training only to know more and more in order to advance in one's career or to act concretely on the world? What if the change in the purpose of knowledge placed action for society and its resilience simultaneously as purpose, means and content?

In this case protective intelligence would be an incredible asset. The purpose of social intervention and vocational training should now be rethought beyond "social promotion through work", or pity for others but with the aim of constructing everyday alternatives that, put together, sketch the world of tomorrow. This is what I find extraordinary in the tiny initiative, in view of immense needs, but so useful locally of Frédérique and her association Pôle en Pomme whose seeds are spreading and carrying joy, economic activity and social link in a territory left to its own devices.


Nelson, R. (2020). All connected - The emergence of a global consciousness. Massot éditions

French Institute of Appreciative Inquiry

Shankland, R., & André, C. (2017). Gratitude and social well-being: explanatory mechanisms for the effects of gratitude on individual and collective well-being. Quebec Journal of Psychology, 38(2), 43-64.

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France Culture. Care: from a sexist theory to a political and feminist concept https:/

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