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“#ESSAY: A Warrior Pure of Heart — Goku’s Overlooked Emotional Intelligence”
Before he could fly, Goku’s main method of transportation was via the Flying Nimbus, a magical cloud that he was able to ride because he is pure of heart … but what exactly does “pure of heart” mean? Well, simply put, he’s a positive force in the world — he’s kind, caring, and heroic, all of which originates in some of his most overlooked character traits: his emotional intelligence and maturity. The idea that Goku is an emotionally well-rounded person might be a bit of a bold claim — especially since the recurring fan meme/joke is that he is a socially inept absent father who only cares about fighting and getting stronger — but when you look at his actions throughout the Dragon Ball franchise, his morals and values and everything in between, it's not hard to see that there is much more to Goku than some might give him credit for.
Goku might lack a bit of social grace and might not know everything about marriage, but he’s by no means clueless when it comes to how he interacts with his emotions and the emotions of others. From his ability to turn villains into friends to his supportive parenting and overall kind, pure-hearted nature, Goku has shown time and again that he is emotionally intelligent, even if he doesn’t know it himself.
In his 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, American Psychologist Howard Gardner proposed that intelligence could be measured beyond the traditional concept of cognitive or scholarly intelligence, offering eight types of intelligence (later updated to nine) that humans have the potential for: naturalist, musical, logical-mathematical, existential, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, intrapersonal, and spatial. If you ever thought Goku was dumb, you can apply this theory and find he appears to be proficient in naturalist, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence.
I’ll be focusing on those last two, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence — these are, in simple terms, a person’s ability to connect, understand, and work with others, and the ability to understand oneself in terms of desires, limits, etc. Together, these two forms of intelligence and the characteristics that result in Goku (empathy, motivation, self-regulation, etc.) make up what is known as emotional intelligence, something Goku seems to have in spades.
Interpersonal Enemy Befriender
In his video "Son Goku: The Misunderstood Character," YouTuber TotallyNotMark analyzes Goku as a positive flat arc character. Unlike Vegeta, who goes through a positive change over the course of the series, Goku remains the same, instead changing the world around him for the better through his actions. Specifically, he has shown the ability to understand and work with others, even when they're villains, as well as make complex judgment calls to determine whether or not an enemy has the potential to be an ally. Overall, Goku is in tune with people's thoughts, motivations, and emotions and acts accordingly. According to MI Oasis, this is interpersonal intelligence — Goku understands the intentions, motivations, and desires of both his friends and his enemies and is able to use that to everyone's advantage.
Simply put, Goku shows both emotional intelligence and emotional maturity in his ability to see beneath the outer layers of villains to find a friend or ally. With Piccolo Jr., Goku saw a rival, someone to motivate him to get stronger rather than an enemy to wipe off the face of the earth, the same approach he had with Vegeta that resulted in both of them shifting from enemies to anti-heroes to close friends. He pulls it off over and over again, going so far as to have a God of Destruction in his circle of friends, as well as the literal king of the multiverse, a figure so powerful and fear-inducing that no other being, not even other gods, dare be so casual with.
Furthermore, Goku's parenting skills — often mistakingly the target of "bad dad" jokes, claims, and memes — also reflect his interpersonal skills. With Gohan, he is supportive, patient, and compassionate during their time in the hyperbolic time chamber. He understands co-parenting outside of world-threatening emergencies (agreeing with Chi-Chi that Gohan should maintain his studies pre-Cell games and understanding that he doesn't need to make his son an extension/copy of himself) and shows deep levels of concern, fear, and worry for him during the Buu saga (both when he thought he was killed and when he was training to fight Buu). He shows the same level of support for Goten during the Buu saga, never talking down to him or Trunks during Fusion training, having confidence in their ability to save the world, and immediately accepting Goten when he first met him — there was no hesitation to love and embrace his second son or to show affection to him with enthusiasm. Stack it all up and Goku shows a remarkably high level of interpersonal intelligence.
Intrapersonal Limit Breaker
So how does Goku stack up when it comes to intrapersonal intelligence? As previously stated, this is the ability to understand one’s self, know your goals and limits, and use all of the information to walk your specific path in life. Goku once again fits the bill here. He started out with a strong sense of who he was, and very early on into the series he realized he wanted to be a martial artist, facing his limitations as further goals to reach — a great example being in Dragon Ball Super: Broly when Whis asks Goku why he desires even more strength despite his already crazy power level and he simply states he's pumped at the idea of people being stronger than him because it means he can still keep going. Goku has a strong sense of self and goals and regulates his life according to those goals through training, the desire to fight strong opponents, and the thrill of knowing there will always be someone stronger he can aspire to surpass — he has a great working model of self-regulation, even if it's mostly focused on training and fighting.
Think about every time Goku introduces himself — he is upfront and confident, often asking to fight strong opponents within minutes of meeting them because he knows who he is and what he wants. Combined with his great sense of his limitations and how to break them (remember how he discovered Saiyans' ability to get stronger after near-death without knowing about it?) and the truth he lives by (always knowing he can be better) and Goku's intrapersonal intelligence appears just as high as his interpersonal intelligence.
Pure of Heart
Goku’s intrapersonal intelligence feeds into his interpersonal intelligence — which is what forms his heroic nature, compassionate and caring relationship toward both friends and enemies, and his surprisingly poignant and supportive parenting skills. Fans might joke and some might truly believe that Goku is childish and only cares about fighting, but that couldn’t be further from the truth — he simply knows what he wants and moves to achieve it, maintaining a strong emotional bond with friends, family, and even enemies. Add to this the generally mature concept of "I can always be better" that he lives by, and Goku is easily one of the most emotionally mature, confident, and intelligent characters in Dragon Ball.
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