The Coddling of the American Mind - Deepstash
The Coddling of the American Mind

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The Coddling of the American Mind

by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt

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Untruths that spread throughout culture

Three great untruths are spreading throughout college campuses, high schools and many homes. These untruths are rarely taught explicitly. Instead, they are conveyed to people by the rules, practices, and norms imposed on them, often with the best intentions.

  1. The untruth of fragility: what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
  2. The untruth of emotional reasoning: Always trust your feelings
  3. The untruth of us versus them: Life is a battle between good and evil people.

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Children are “anti-fragile”

The term anti-fragile describes things that have the capacity to not only tolerate stress but to flourish and grow as a result of it.

Everybody will face completely unexpected events. When we have limited exposure to unexpected events, we will likely find navigating them difficult. However, when our brain and cognitive processes encounter unexpected events, they learn to adapt and grow, making them more likely to navigate uncertainty successfully.

Parents and educators should help children learn and grow by letting them face risks and stressors, not shielding them from them.

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Many colleges encourage students to indulge in these cognitive distortions:

  1. Emotional reasoning. Confusing feelings with thoughts or reality is a cognitive distortion.
  2. Catastrophizing imagines a sequence of events. But it's seldom true. 
  3. Overgeneralising
  4. Dichotomous thinking. All or nothing thinking.
  5. Mind reading.
  6. Labelling. Because someone belongs to a category doesn't mean they embody all the traits of that category.
  7. Negative filtering. Amplifying negative signals, so it overwhelms the positive.
  8. Discounting positives. Rationalising away positive evidence as if it doesn't count.
  9. Blaming.

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“seeking out challenges (rather than eliminating or avoiding everything that “feels unsafe”), freeing yourself from cognitive distortions (rather than always trusting your initial feelings), and taking a generous view of other people, and looking for nuance (rather than assuming the worst about people within a simplistic us-versus-them morality).”

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The charity principle

The principle in philosophy and rhetoric is that one should interpret other people’s statements in their best, most reasonable form, not in the worst way possible.

When you think that your feelings are real, you may believe that other people have worse intentions than they really do. This could cause you to see harmful behaviour in places that don’t exist. 

A good hack is to try and see why someone said or did something from the most reasonable and well-intentioned point of view that you can.

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Two views about safe spaces

  1. A good idea is being physically safe on campus, such as not being subjected to sexual harassment, physical abuse, or being targeted personally for hate speech.
  2. Another really bad view is that we need to be safe ideologically. For example, "I need to be safe emotionally and feel good all the time. If someone says something I don't like, that's a problem for everybody else." This idea is bad because engaging in ideological or emotional safety will make you weak. If you want to become strong, you need to engage,  similar to using weights in a gym. 

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University professors are generally left leaning in their politics, yet the percentage of professors who lean left has increased in recent years. 

A more uniform group of people will cause a decline in the quality of scholarly research. Because they share a similar view, they won’t be as rigorous in potential counterarguments or the review of the quality of the work. 

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Paranoid parenting

Parents have become overly concerned with the safety of their children. This has led to less free play, less independence and more fear instilled in children, which may increase the desire for safety provided by third parties for young adults.

Keeping children safe is important, yet trying to eliminate all risks in a child’s life can severely stunt their development, sense of independence, and ability to confront adversity.

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CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either."

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The “dignity culture” is increasingly giving way to “victimhood culture.”

  • Dignity culture is characterised by assumed dignity and worth regardless of what people think of you. People are expected to have enough self-control to think little of irritations, slights, minor conflicts and even direct insults as threats to their dignity that should be met with a response.
  • Victimhood culture: People and groups try to cultivate an image of being victims who deserve assistance. They are highly sensitive to slights and tend to handle conflicts through complaints to third parties.

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Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child

Acknowledge that children are anti-fragile.

Encourage them to have unstructured and unsupervised time to learn how to judge risks for themselves. They should get the opportunity to learn how to deal with frustration and disagreement.

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Teach your children Cognitive Behaviour Therapy so they can learn to recognize and moderate the hallmarks of emotional and motivated reasoning.

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  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Practice the virtue of intellectual humility.

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Encourage potential changes to the local education system.

  • At the elementary level, suggest minimal homework and more recess with minimal supervision.
  • At middle and high school levels, cultivate individual virtues such as humility, teach debate and encourage debate clubs, and assign readings that promote critical thinking and reasoned discussion.

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Limit and refine device time

  • Encourage children to spend more time outdoors.
  • Place clear but reasonable limits on device time. 
  • Light use of screen time is not harmful, except if it displaces the many other activities children could be doing. 
  • Chldren should have no social media until high school. From high school, agree on a reasonable time budget for each child.

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