Coddling of the American Mind Audiobook Summary
The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure is a 2018 book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. It is an expansion of a popular essay the two wrote for The Atlantic in 2015. Lukianoff and Haidt argue that overprotection is having a negative effect on university students and that the use of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” does more harm than good.
Something has been going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Speakers are shouted down. Students and professors say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to speak honestly. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising—on campus as well as nationally. How did this happen?
First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three Great Untruths contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and ancient wisdom from many cultures. Embracing these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life.
Lukianoff and Haidt investigate the many social trends that have intersected to promote the spread of these untruths. They explore changes in childhood such as the rise of fearful parenting, the decline of unsupervised, child-directed play, and the new world of social media that has engulfed teenagers in the last decade. They examine changes on campus, including the corporatization of universities and the emergence of new ideas about identity and justice. They situate the conflicts on campus within the context of America’s rapidly rising political polarization and dysfunction.
This is an audiobook for anyone who is confused by what is happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live, work, and cooperate across party lines.
Coddling of the American Mind Audiobook Reviews
Lukianoff and Haidt offer a treatise on how the moral landscape has changed over the past decade. The book revolves around 3 problematic ideas that have arisen:
1. what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker (humans are fragile and need more than protection, they need safe spaces and safety nets for increasingly less dangerous events in the external world)
2. always trust your feelings (feeling hurt constitutes sufficient evidence that any person or system is wrong/harmful/bad/evil)
3. life is a battle of good and evil people (the world is a perpetual battle of your group versus the other group)
We now live in a world where adults file accusations of harm immediately, especially with social media, before initially doing an internal check. Just because we feel offended does not automatically mean the other person is an aggressor/bad person. And being on a hypervigiliant search for harm ensures you will find it, even from decent folks that would be best served by an assumption of benevolence until proven otherwise.
This book comes at a great time. A lot of societal problems have improved in just the past 100 years (see It’s Better Than It Looks by Gregg Easterbrook and Better Angles of Our Nature by Steven Pinker). Yet, explicit sexism, racism, homophobia and their related ilk still remain. Unfortunately, some of the solutions to reduce social problems has produced some undesirable side effects. This book details these problems of progress. With scientific research, sociological analysis, and interesting anecdotes, the authors do a deep dive into the culture of emotional safeguarding – where protecting people from feeling uncomfortable has taken precedence over training people to be critical thinkers.
Essentially, many of the principles for protecting people from dissenting viewpoints runs counter to thousands of years of theory and practice, from stoic philosophy to cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Looking forward to the debates that will arise from this book. It’s an easy read – two settings and you’ll be finished. I hope every administrator, teacher, parent, and students read this. Regardless of how much you agree with the authors, its time to have a serious conversation of whether the social progress pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and if so, what can be done.
Listen To Coddling of the American Mind Audiobook
Edward Luce of the Financial Times praised the book, saying the authors “do a great job of showing how ‘safetyism’ is cramping young minds.”
Writing for The New York Times, Thomas Chatterton Williams praised the book’s explanations and analysis of recent college campus trends as “compelling”.
Writing for The Washington Post, Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, gave the book a mixed review, questioning the book’s assertion that students today are “disempowered because they’ve been convinced they are fragile”. Roth however said that the authors’ “insights on the dangers of creating habits of “moral dependency” are timely and important”.
Moira Weigel, writing for The Guardian, said that Lukianoff and Haidt, who live in safe spaces of Ted Talks and think tanks, where they are “genteel crusaders” against political correctness, and who have not experienced “discrimination and domination” themselves, “insist that the crises moving young people to action are all in their heads”. The authors say that the students suffer from pathological cognitive distortions that fuel their activism and can be corrected by using self-help methods the authors provide based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). She says that the authors have created their own speech codes, which includes the cant of progress.
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