My guest this week is professor and author Dr. Jonathan Haidt. We focused on Jon’s recent bestselling book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, co-written with Greg Lukianoff.
This is a really interesting read. It aims to track down the cause of two parallel trends among Generation Z (people born from around 1995 to 2015): the rise in anxiety, depression, and suicide, and the increasing sensitivity among many college students to ideas they find upsetting. You see this sensitivity in things like trigger warnings, safe spaces, and shutting down debate around controversial topics.
One of the great insights from Jon and Greg’s book is that these trends are closely related—that this generation has learned things that set them up both for being hypersensitive to ideas they disagree with, and more at risk for psychological conditions like anxiety and depression. Other topics we discussed included:
- The social science detective story described in The Coddling of the American Mind
- Jon’s surprising admission that he thought at one point he wasn’t going to get tenure (This wasn’t really a discussion point, I just wanted to flag it since it struck me as incredibly surprising, given everything I know about Jon and his work.)
- The three Great Untruths that are the opposite of the great ideas from ancient wisdom
- The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
- The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings
- The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people
- Cognitive distortions like fortune telling that are being taught to the current generation of students
- How the myth of fragility becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
- How hypersensitivity in many college classrooms is degrading the educational experience
- The small subset of students that drive the changes on campuses
- How concepts like “trauma” are creeping among Generation Z
- The trouble with making every issue in education a political one
- The justification of actual violence against people who espouse ideas one finds offensive
- How sound political systems channel our tribalism in ways that keep it in check
- The principle of anti-fragility: that we require adversity in order to grow
- The overprotection of kids that deprives them of countless opportunities to grow through challenges
- How small doses of distressing stimuli can inoculate against future distress
- The effects of technology on mental health
- The relevance of the Stoics for modern issues that trouble us
- How universities can address the epidemic of mental health problems like depression and anxiety
- How to replace the Great Untruths with more adaptive beliefs
- Whether trigger warnings are ever useful
- Reasons to be hopeful for Generation Z
This is a conversation about a really important topic, and one that’s relevant not just for Gen Z but for all of us. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. For more information about these topics, visit TheCoddling.com; parents may be especially interested in the page on raising Wiser Kids.
More of Jon’s work can be found at RighteousMind.com.
Jon has four TED talks (!), all of which are worth listening to:
- The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives
- Religion, Evolution, and the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence
- How Common Threats Can Make Common (Political) Ground
- Can a Divided America Heal?
I high recommend getting a copy of each of Jon’s books; here are they are on Amazon (affiliate links):
Jon referenced Dale Carnegie’s perennial bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People (affiliate link), which I find to be extremely relevant even decades after it was written.
Jonathan Haidt, PhD, is a social psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, which is where I first learned of his work when I was a student there a decade later and took a course taught by his research mentor.
Jon taught for 16 years in the psychology department at the University of Virginia. His research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures—including the cultures of American progressives, conservatives, and libertarians.
Jon is the author of three books; the most recent two were New York Times bestsellers. At NYU-Stern he’s applying his research on moral psychology to business ethics, asking how companies can structure and run themselves in ways that will be resistant to ethical failures.
Jon is also the co-founder of HeterodoxAcademy.org, a collaboration among nearly 2500 professors who are working to increase viewpoint diversity and freedom of inquiry in universities.