Book Review – “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Jonathan Haidt

Posted: February 17, 2020 in Quintessential Leader Book Reviews, Quintessential Leadership
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The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for FailureThe Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While Haidt makes his case in a very narrow sense that focuses on the current higher education environment, the reality is this is the current pervasive American (regardless of age) mindset. We’ve, collectively, just turned off our brains from any kind of critical thinking and just absorb the opiate of the masses around us until it becomes the tainted glass through which we see and respond to everything.

We’re dumbed down and weakened by not be aware enough and courageous enough to stand alone and think for ourselves using common sense, logic, and reason within a moral and ethical framework that is unchangeable.

Haidt nails the three great untruths that have become the pervasive American mindset: “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”; “always trust your feelings”; and “life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

This is the mindset behind the polarized environment that has gripped every part of American society, from education to politics to sports to religion. It is appalling that we’ve allowed ourselves to be enslaved to this insanity.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker” is behind the “nobody can fail/everybody’s a winner” mindset that we see everywhere. The reality is that what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. Life is a fight from the day we’re born until the day we die. We lose a lot of battles in the war – failures – but we learn from the failures and we grow from them. Without failure and loss, there can be no change, no maturity, no growth. That’s why it’s baked into the cake of our lives.

“Always trust your feelings” is scary. Feelings (emotions) are not always sane. We have a lot of neurological activity going on between our ears that has been, is, and is going to be shaped by imperfect nurturing (nobody’s fault, because we’re all imperfect), imperfect natures (you and me), and imperfect environments. That means just because we feel a certain way doesn’t mean that’s how things really are.

We tend to overreact to our feelings and not realize that they are spark plugs that are short-lived because logic and reason and discernment should kick in to give us context as the engine of our lives.

When we start trusting how we feel (which is subjective and many times not true in how we’re perceiving things), instead of objectively looking situations using common sense, we are doomed to being caught up in cycles of despair, hate, aggression, anger, and fear.

Whatever stance we take on anything, we will, because our feelings are driving our lives, hammer it to death and drive it into the ground, refusing to see anyone else’s point of view, refusing to believe we could be (and likely are) wrong about some things, and refusing to even think about anything outside our own little ideas of what we “feel” is the “truth.” Very dangerous territory for anyone to be in.

“Life is a battle between good people and evil people” is balderdash. Where is love your neighbor in that kind of thinking? Absent. Totally absent.

Life is actually a battle between good and evil. People who are essentially trying to lead good lives do some pretty evil things sometimes.

I have. You have. Look at King David in the Bible. He’s called a man after God’s own heart. Yet, he took the wife of one of his 30 top soldiers and tried to hide her pregnancy by getting the man (Uriah the Hittite) drunk so he’d sleep with his wife. When that didn’t work, David sent Uriah back to battle carrying the letter ordering Joab (the commander of David’s army) to put him at the front lines to make sure he was killed.

We all do evil things. It’s how we respond when we realize we’ve done something evil that determines our character (good or evil). Read Psalm 51 for David’s response. That, if it’s ours, is our character.

Conversely, there are people who live lives that are debauched and deplorable and they do good things (sometimes on a scale much grander than any of the good things you and I may do from time to time).

Every person has potential and every person has some of the same blood and DNA that you and I have running through their veins. I may not want to spend time around someone who is doing a lot of evil things, but I’m not warring against the person. Instead, I’m warring against my own nature that can think evil, speak evil, and do evil.

If we all focused on that, we’d understand that the wars we fight are inside ourselves, and we need to be the change – and make those changes, which is a battle within itself – we want to see. There’d be a lot less of villainizing, indemnifying, and cursing other people, however different from us they are, and there would be a lot more forgiveness, mercy, and compassion (what we want and need as well).

Good book and good food for thought.

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