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The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

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A timely investigation into the campus assault on free speech and what it means for students, education, and our democracy.

The generation now coming of age has been taught three Great Untruths: their feelings are always right; they should avoid pain and discomfort; and they should look for faults in others and not themselves. These three Great Untruths are part of a larger philosophy that sees young people as fragile creatures who must be protected and supervised by adults. But despite the good intentions of the adults who impart them, the Great Untruths are harming kids by teaching them the opposite of ancient wisdom and the opposite of modern psychological findings on grit, growth, and antifragility. The result is rising rates of depression and anxiety, along with endless stories of college campuses torn apart by moralistic divisions and mutual recriminations.

This is a book about how we got here. First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt take us on a tour of the social trends stretching back to the 1980s that have produced the confusion and conflict on campus today, including the loss of unsupervised play time and the birth of social media, all during a time of rising political polarization.

This is a book about how to fix the mess. The culture of “safety” and its intolerance of opposing viewpoints has left many young people anxious and unprepared for adult life, with devastating consequences for them, for their parents, for the companies that will soon hire them, and for a democracy that is already pushed to the brink of violence over its growing political divisions. Lukianoff and Haidt offer a comprehensive set of reforms that will strengthen young people and institutions, allowing us all to reap the benefits of diversity, including viewpoint diversity.

This is a book for anyone who is confused by what’s happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live and work and cooperate across party lines.

352 pages, Kindle Edition

First published July 17, 2018

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About the author

Jonathan Haidt

17 books2,947 followers
Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. He lives in New York City.

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Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,663 followers
September 6, 2018
This is a very narrow and small-minded book parading as a big thoughtful one. It says it is about the American Mind, but the data and the theory only support "the coddling" of a very narrow subset of the American mind: upper middle class college kids born after 1995 that got to college in 2013. As far as that group is concerned, this is really good advice. I totally agree with his three untruths--your feelings are not necessarily true, the world is not good and evil, and adversity does not make you weak. I also agree that children need lots of free play and that social media is bad for kids and they are over-protected. There is nothing to disagree with here (even though I sometimes chafe at "when we were kids..." arguments)

HOWEVER, using this group's specific problems, the authors make vast over-generalizations. The few anecdotes highlighted are meant to be examples of a deeper problem, but to me, they are the sum total of the problem. Left leaning students are behaving very badly toward conservative speakers. At most, there are 10 or so highly publicized events that seem to play on a loop among conservatives and intellectual dark web types. And there are no defenses to these behaviors, but it hardly represents our nation. And they provide no data whatsoever that it does. It's too soon to even tell that the next generation will be like this one.

And for people who seem to care a lot about both sides arguments, they seem to leave out a lot of counter-examples. Here are a few:

1. They talk about the metoo movement once in the beginning. Is that not a product of this "call out" generation? None of us "old" women had the "balls" to speak truth to power like these young women do. Good for them.

2. And the Parkland teens and all the ways in which this generation is more compassionate and engaged than we were. My generation (I'm 40) thought it was cool not to care about anything. My middle school kid stays up after school making protest signs and watching political debates. Is that not progress?

3. The authors also focuses on one particular subset of an entire generation (left-leaning, and mostly women and LGBT or Trans students asking for safe spaces). They leave out that Gamergate and the trolls and the alt right are also made up of this generation. Why not talk about them at all? Seriously. They are literally the same age and except for one aside in the entire book that "the right does it too" there are no examples at all of the right doing the thing they are decrying. It seemed like a half-assed "both sides" argument without support.

4. Do you know how many books I've read written by old people decrying the hippie generation of the 60s (Alan Bloome's Closing of the American Mind is an example)? Bloome was talking about Haidt and Luianoff. Boy do they grow up fast.

5. It makes me sad that more people will read this book than will read books highlighting actual big problems like inequality. The authors give a nod to the fact that inequality should definitely be remedied, but they would rather you do it the right way and not call it "social justice."

Again, I agree with all the parenting advice and the cognitive behavior advice, but this is not a self-help book. It's meant as a polemic and it strikes at the wrong target.
Profile Image for Ryan Boissonneault.
183 reviews1,941 followers
July 26, 2022
Imagine that you want to start a fitness program to increase your strength and endurance and sign up at the local gym. Upon arrival, you notice that management has removed all of the weights, concerned that heavy weights can cause stress and injury. Instead, you are instructed to perform light body-weight exercises that you can already safely handle. As you go through the motions of exercise, progress is nonexistent and you’ll be entirely unprepared for any activities that might require greater strength and endurance.

Welcome to (some) modern universities, which engage in the intellectual equivalent of removing the weights from the gym by creating safe spaces, disinviting speakers, removing offensive material, and inhibiting free speech and inquiry that should be the staple of a college education. Attending a university with these policies to prepare for the challenges of the outside world is like training for a marathon in our weightless gym.

The analogy is apt because the human mind, like the musculoskeletal system, is antifragile. Whereas fragile systems break under pressure and resilient systems can withstand pressure without change, antifragile systems become stronger under pressure. If you want to enhance your physical strength, you have to lift progressively heavier weight; if you want to enhance your intellectual fortitude, you have to expose yourself to different and sometimes controversial or offensive ideas.

This is the topic Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt tackle in The Coddling of the American Mind. They frame the issue around the “three great untruths” that are promoted on some campuses across the US, which are creating an environment that not only blocks open inquiry and learning but that leads to polarization, emotional immaturity, fragility, violence, and mental illness.

The three untruths are 1) what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker, 2) always trust your feelings, and 3) life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three untruths, taken together, create a student body that is unreceptive to other viewpoints, dogmatic, easily offended, and self-righteous, eager to earn points within the group by calling out and ostracizing those with different views. The great untruths are damaging both socially and psychologically, and run counter to both the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (used to treat anxiety and depression) and ancient wisdom regarding well-being and happiness.

The great untruths therefore lead to the types of mental habits that our best therapy aims to eradicate, such as catastrophizing, emotional reasoning, overgeneralizing, dichotomous thinking, labeling, blaming, and negative filtering. Universities are encouraging, in other words, the very habits that lead to anxiety and depression and emotional stunting.

The authors dive deeply into these issues in the first two parts of the book and then describe the historical, social, psychological, and political reasons why we find ourselves in this situation. The fourth and final part of the book offers solutions, which I would summarize as follows.

The problems on campus can ultimately be solved by focusing on developing the virtues of intellectual courage, humility, and emotional resilience in our children and students. First, intellectual humility forces one to recognize that humans are fallible and prone to bias and error, both individually and collectively. Since we are often blind to our own errors, the only possibility of correcting our misjudgments is through exposure to competing ideas. As the authors put it, exposure to someone that disagrees with you is a gift. They can either change your mind, thus correcting your errors and biases, or else strengthen your own beliefs in the process of defending them.

The second virtue, intellectual courage, is the habit of pursuing the truth wherever it may lead and embracing the values of free speech and open inquiry. It’s the recognition that you may be wrong, that you may not have all of the answers, and that the development of your intellect depends on defending your ideas against competing views rather than shutting them down through force or violence.

The third virtue, emotional resilience, is the habit of handling adversity appropriately and taking control of your own emotions and reactions. Words are not violence, and being offended does not count as a point or an argument. This reminds me of three quotes by Christopher Hitchens that captures the spirit:

— “If someone tells me that I've hurt their feelings, I say, 'I'm still waiting to hear what your point is.’”
— “In this country, I've been told, 'That's offensive' as if those two words constitute an argument or a comment.”
— “Those who are determined to be ‘offended’ will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.”

The best defense against false or immoral ideas is rigorous intellectual debate and criticism, and the censorship of ideas only makes those ideas more appealing to your opponents and to those who are never exposed to the proper criticisms. Shouting down a speaker is immature and intellectually and emotionally cowardly and has no place within a university. If you want to call yourself a liberal, you should have no problem winning the war of words with religious fundamentalists or racists without having to suppress their speech. Sticking with the Christopher Hitchens theme, can you imagine if, instead of engaging in dozens of debates with religious conservatives, he instead called for their speech to be suppressed? How much weaker and ineffective would his position have been?

As the authors point out, this is not happening at every university, and there is some debate as to whether or not this is as big of problem as it appears. In fact, it might not be; but it’s important to get out in front of the issue before it becomes a bigger problem. The authors cite some fairly egregious examples from a handful of universities, but also note that there are many exceptions. In particular, the University of Chicago remains a leader in free speech and inquiry and published the Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression, which every college student and parent should read. Over 40 institutions have adopted this policy, and hopefully more will follow suit.

Profile Image for Emily May.
1,921 reviews290k followers
January 7, 2019
I saw Jonathan Haidt speak on Real Time and he seemed like an intelligent guy with a lot of interesting ideas, so I patiently waited for this book to become available at my library. I'm also curious about this notion of kids being overprotected or "coddled".

It's looking more and more like the developed world's need to protect its kids, wrap them in bubble wrap, and disinfect everything might be the cause of a variety of unsavoury things, from Berkeley banning speakers to the rise in childhood leukemia. I don't necessarily agree with all the authors' ideas - such as their thinly-veiled disdain for feminists who talk about rape culture - but I do think they make some important points.

The truth is, though, this essay-turned-book should really have just stayed an essay. The authors' three Great Untruths make a thoughtful opinion piece, but there's not a full-length book hidden in the idea. The result of them trying to extend their commentary to a modest 269 pages is a lot of repetition, weak graphs that demonstrate a very small number of people doing a very small number of things, and odd tangents. An example of this latter is the lengthy instruction in how to do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

A lot of the "evidence" is anecdotal, and focuses on a few extreme cases. Perhaps these are indicative of a larger trend, but I don't see anything in this book to convince me of that. I guess I should have just read the article this book grew out of.

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August 7, 2022
Update 7/14/22:

Puts the lie to the assertion in my comments section that the Jan 6th protest was legit political discourse just as valid as peaceful BLM protests. LOL!

Update 2/7/22:

An angry mob of white supremacists breaking into the nation's capitol, beating police officers, making off with government property and intending to overthrow democracy are just engaging in "political discourse." Hows that for concept creep? LOL!

Update 1/15/22:

I. Rest. My. Case.


But she was just exercising her first-amendment right and shouldn't face any serious consequences for her antics, right?

This is a shining example of what we should want , something other than what universities are
supposedly pushing, right?

This is a figure emblematic of what the next generation could become if only institutions of higher learning would quit "indoctrinating" the youth, right?

The truth is that this child is exactly why we need CRT in schools and why consequence-free speech is such a terrible idea.

More importantly, this is not a "rare" example of "genuine" white supremacy but a prime example of what happens when we tolerate intolerance and tacitly put the stamp of approval on white supremacy by admitting such ideas to the clubhouse for valid ideas worth considering.

And of course, Haidt and his supporters would argue that the brown children taking their own lives because they can't handle being bombarded with this kind of behavior in school were A, poorly prepared for life and B, need to toughen up and accept that white supremacist ideas are valid and deserve to be heard and respected.

Update 5/14/21:

Haidt and his supporters, your thoughts?


Is this how we enoculate people against the emotional and intellectual weakness that results from a "coddled" mind?

Are educators and supervisors supposed to stand by as students and employees exercise their first-amendment right to behave like the republican representative discussed in the above article?

Update 4/30/21:

Haidt and his supporters, your thoughts?


I guess these officers are victims of woke snowflakes canceling people for exercising their right to free speech, amirite?

Then there's this:


Who, exactly, would be coddled in this instance?

Could it be the folks whose ancestors owned people?

Could it be the folks who would like to either own or deport people?

Teaching anti-racism and creating safe spaces for marginalized groups is dangerous, but teaching folks the "good of slavery"is a necessary lesson for children?

this is why most people believe that one of the two major political parties in this country is a warm and safe space for white supremacists.

And then there's this gem:


And the comments are what Haidt and his supporters would like students of color to be hit with in a classroom setting.

But here's something that explains all of this:


And Here's something I especially love:


How's that for free speech?


Edit 1/6/21


I rest my case.

These folks and the subject of the video linked below are who proponents of this book and the "injured party" they work to defend want to admit to discourse communities.


Poor QAnon conspiracy theorists; they're being canceled and silenced by powermad snowflakes who want to deny their right to perpetuate ridiculous narratives about baby-eating, child raping lizard people who worship Satan and want to take over the world.

Shame on America's universities for preventing today's youth from being swayed by a cult who has infiltrated and been part of a plot to overthrow the United States government.

It is just patently unfair that feminist and anti-racist messages are being treated as normal, intelligent and moral while equally valid beliefs about child sex rings and human sacrifices and a need to protect the Christian white majority are being drummed out of socioacademic discourse./Sarcasm.

A note to prospective trolls: do not try me.
In case the rating and tags aren’t abundantly clear, this is a *negative* review.

If you slither in here with partisan kvetches about “triggered ““lefties” heaping criticism on poor, picked on bigotry apologists, you will be eviscerated, deleted and blocked. No exceptions.

I’m under no obligation to be polite when I heave assholes out of my house and I’ve no inclination to do so here.

Wanna make a case for/extoll the virtues of bigots? Pen your own review or hold a political rally in a friend’s review space.

I’m not here for your counter argumentative analyses or your pitiful, presumptuous attempts to change my opinion on this dreck.

I'm alright with my interpretation of Haidt's arguments and don't really care if you aren't.

so, do yourself a favor and find other, more receptive audiences for your “opposing views”; expressing them here is nothing short of boorish and creepy.

Finally, if you are unable to distinguish polite disagreement with a review(hint: this is always welcome here) from trollery (eliminated on sight), it might behoove you to figure out the distinction before commenting.


Holocaust denial, lynching/rape /domestic violence apologia, fundamentalist arguments for misogyny/ the execution of the LGBTQIA population and other flavors of bigotry ought not to be admitted to the clubhouse for ideas worth considering.

More often than not, the folks fighting for such a thing are privileged snowflakes who are themselves triggered by the presence of people from marginalized groups at their university.

They hold repugnant views about some of their classmates/students and want to regain control of a terrifying reality (Oh nos, teh women’s, teh gays, and teh brown people are invading academia, calling us out and threatening our place atop the sociocultural hierarchy!), one in which their deeply entrenched ideas aren't accepted as universal truths.

The authors and their acolytes are being disingenuous when they claim that the exposure of young people to simple disagreement is the goal.

Ostensibly, they aim to inoculate current and future generations against the deleterious effects of echo-chambers

What they really want is to be back in control of discourse communities and to be treated with the deference they think their ethnicity, faith, and socioeconomic status affords them.

Simply put, they are advocating for the validation of the following sentiments:

•“For everything that is wrong with this world there is a j** behind it.”
•“I love laying in bed and rubbing my wet pussy to officers killing n***** men.”
•“N***** lives don’t matter.”
•“AIDS kills f*** dead.”
•“Let’s see them try to enter the people house and attempt to remove our President, a National Treasure!!! Death will become them!”
•“This woman is Evil Incarnate. We Cannot Allow This Satanic Shill To Enter Office. (Kamala Harris’ eyes turn completely black several times during this interview, she is full of unclean spirits ECHO THIS PLEASE)”
•“Voting will not remove them. The only things n****** understand are pain and fear”

Most of the sentiments quoted above were uttered by average Americans and manifested in the form of an armed insurrection that, if successful, would have brought an end to American democracy.

But hate-speech is free-speech, amirite?

These are decidedly non-coddled minds on bigotry and hatred. Any questions?

My takeaway?

Waaaah!!!; we don't get to be publicly racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic with impunity anymore!

Waaaaah, students outside the bubble of privilege are exercising their first amendment rights to speak out against antifeminist, pro- lynching, social Darwinist religious fundamentalists who want "safe spaces" at their institutions of higher learning!

Waaaaaa; marginalized groups I hate and with whom I disagree are being heard and taken seriously!

Waaaa!!; fewer and fewer people are buying into the socially constructed idea that one permutation of subjectivity is inherently superior to all others.

Waaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!; students and teachers (and of course, the lurkers support them in email and in department meetings. LOL!) with toxic and ignorant opinions about entire groups of people continue to conflate free speech with consequence free speech and are shocked and “confused” when they get dragged by the public and made to face professional consequences!

Are some children overprotected? Yes. I agree that this may be a huge problem. In fact, one of the things I appreciate is that my parents never prohibited me from watching horror films or reading violent or "controversial" books; E C comics were my favorite.

I especially loved the Judy Bloom books, as she neither sugar coated life’s tribulations nor talked down to her readers.

I also got to run around outside and fight, fall and skin my elbows and knees and wear shorts; no one forced me to sit in the house like “a little lady” and play with plastic emblems of upper-class Western beauty.

There were clear rules for play, rules designed to keep my name out of the hat stuffed with those who weren't so lucky. If the chance of a child ending up like Elizabeth Smart, Polly Klaas, Jaycee Dugard or Gina DeJesus is more than zero, why take the risk, particularly if you are in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood and belong to an ethnic group whose children often get ignored by the media when they are victims of crime. Those outside the bubble of privilege know all too well how cops and media regard little brown skinned children who go missing.

To continue, should we allow our feelings to take the lead, absolutely not. This is why I abhor those who apply their “feelings” about entire groups of people when making decisions about who deserves to be hired, protected, respected and regarded as human.

And yes, there are ideas and social, political, economic and academic phenomena that are flat out evil. Full stop. The architects and benificiaries of said ideas and phenomena need to wear the shoes they made, no matter how uncomfortable the fit. This is equally true of those who support and facilitate them.

And I’d like to know how being pummeled with ableist, racist, xenophobic, transphobic, homophobic, religiously intolerant or misogynist vitriol in a classroom setting is supposed to prepare already marginalized people for the real world. Being othered and ostracized *is* their real world, and unlike the more fortunate subjectivities, they didn’t get a preparation period.

But maybe the concern isn't so much for *those* groups as it is for straight, white, able-bodied CIS gendered students who might learn to question notions of their inherent superiority. Perhaps that's where the moral panic that underlies this book comes from.
All in all, this is a terrified,defensive and embarrasingly reductive argument for a return to the days when harmful behaviors and the repugnant, taken for granted attitudes from which they sprang were “just the way it was.”
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,502 followers
March 14, 2019
This is a fascinating but very disturbing book about how college students have recently been caught in the three great untruths. The first untruth is that one's feelings are the best guide to correctness. The second is that one should avoid pain or discomfort; what doesn't kill you makes you weaker. And the third untruth is that one should find fault in others, and not in one's self.

This book is not about helicopter parents, although they certainly contribute. It is about a new culture of safety-ism. In this culture, one should always seek safety, even emotional safety. If someone says something to you that makes you uncomfortable, then what he says is unsettling, harmful, and the person who said it is evil. Each person is either good or evil, and there is no middle ground. And, if someone says anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed, then that person is evil.

From time to time, we hear about college students who protest speakers who have been invited to give talks on unsettling subjects, or who have unpopular viewpoints. The college administration is then pressured to retract the invitation, even though the speech is bound to be a learning experience for all. Sometimes a faculty member tries to help a student, is sincere and respectful, but a student takes the attempt the wrong way. The student raises a big stink, characterizes the instructor as harmful and therefore evil. Other faculty members secretly agree with the instructor, but are scared of voicing their dissenting opinions. The college administration is cowed into placating the students, and is not true to the mission of a college.

What is the purpose of a college? While some would argue that a college's purpose is to teach skills, an equally important purpose is to prepare students for their post-college life. After college, people are exposed to all sorts of viewpoints, including both good and obnoxious points of view. An important purpose of a college is to inoculate its students, to make them stronger for the future. The best way to do that is to expose students to differing points of view, even unsettling ideas, so that students can become more critical thinkers and not over-stressed by people of other persuasions.

Many years ago I went to a public university, and heard invited speakers give talks that were very controversial. Students who didn't want to hear these speakers always had the option not to attend. They did not protest against the speakers, depriving others of a learning opportunity. It was that simple.

This book takes the reader on a journey through recent events on college campuses. These events are extremely disturbing, and made me sick that today's students, teachers, parents, and college administrators are often so weak-minded. They have lost their way, and forgotten that while physical safety is absolutely important, emotional safety is not necessarily bad for one's health. But now I have a better understanding of what is happening in college campuses today.

I didn't read this book--I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by one of the authors, Jonathan Haidt. He is an exception to the rule--Haidt is an amazingly good reader, and I truly enjoyed listening to his narration.

Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
742 reviews1,106 followers
June 24, 2020
Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think." ~Hanna Gray

I'm not sure how to begin this review other than to say it was both interesting and disturbing. Having read iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us, I was somewhat aware of what is taking place in universities across the US. The authors of "The Coddling of American Minds write a similar book but giving many more examples of the erosion of free speech on campuses. I'm flabbergasted! How can universities, the very places where freedom of speech was most protected, now be censoring both professors and students in order to not offend anyone? In order to not "harm" students with ideas? Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt explain why this is taking place, how we have turned into a culture of fragility and over-protection. It is one thing to not allow hate speech, hateful and truly harmful ideas, as the authors are quick to point out, but quite another to suppress any view that might go against what students believe, in order to not "harm" them by exposing them to alternate points of view.

Why are universities firing professors for bringing up "hot" issues? Why are they banning controversial speakers? Why are they limiting what even the students can say? It all starts with over-parenting and treating children as fragile things that cannot withstand anything. Of course, this comes from a good place -- a good parent does not want their child to be hurt and wants to protect them from all harm. I'm not a parent but I can understand that. We don't want those we love to be hurt or suffer. However, we as society have gone too far, from "protecting" our children from peanuts and thus greatly increasing the number of children with deadly allergies to them, to protecting them from alternate views and conflicting ideas. We don't allow children to grow if we keep them from being exposed to things that challenge them. The authors say that children are not fragile, but anti-fragile. We need to protect them from serious harm of course, but by coddling them and treating even teens as young children, we are hurting their future prospects and making it more difficult for them to succeed in the adult world.

The authors cite numerous examples of this overprotection, both of young children and extending onto college campuses. They list 3 Untruths that now often govern how children are raised and are causing them to be more anxious and depressed than previous generations:

•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."

The 3 criteria for an idea to be classified as an Untruth are:

•"It contradicts ancient wisdom."

•"It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being."

•It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it."

I will not expand on these in my review but highly recommend the book for any who is interested. I would like to say though, that I do not wholly agree with the first criteria, that of something being untrue in part because it contradicts ancient wisdom. I would argue that just because something has always been held "true" doesn't mean it is. In fact, just because something has always been held true is reason in itself to challenge the assumption. Society would make no progress if "truths' were never questioned, and each generation merely accepted what the prior ones said. We would still be burning people at the stake, still be stoning people to death for adultery, still be cutting off hands for the theft of bread, still be enslaving people (well, we are in a way, if you look at the prison industry in the US, but that's for another discussion), still be locking up gay people. Sometimes we NEED to contradict ancient wisdom.

That said, I mostly agree with this book and the assertions put forth by the authors. I think there is a fine line at times between hate speech and free speech and I'm still not sure where the line needs to be drawn. Drawn it must be; people must be protected from those who would harm them and incite violence against them. However, people do not need to be protected from merely hearing differing points of view, ie a young person who is taught creationism at home is not emotionally harmed by learning about evolution in a school setting (where facts are supposed to be taught).

As was pointed out to me by a reader of my original (flawed and perhaps somewhat racist or at least racially insensitive) review, "There is a very important distinction between thinking differently and holding a position that is objectively wrong". This is true and this is where the line needs to be drawn. And it needs to be drawn by those at whom hateful and false ideologies are directed and who are thus affected by, not by those who are not. The majority cannot dictate what is allowed to be taken as harmful to the minority.

Objectively false ideas do not need to be entertained, nor should they be.

When it comes to mere differences of opinion though, I love the following advice from the book:

"Argue as if you're right, but listen as if you're wrong (and be willing to change your mind). Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person's perspective. Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you've learned from them."
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
411 reviews403 followers
September 15, 2019
97th book for 2018.

This again seems like a good article that got bloated unnecessarily into a book. There are some good points about the necessity to develop resilience in children, but with little strong substance to back things up. The arguments seem one-sided and cherry-picked. Reading this book you'd think that snowflake liberal children are rioting on every campus in America.

Also the focus of the book is a bit unclear to me: is it a critique of the commercialization of the university system in America, where students have become consumers, or is it a critique of current child rearing practices in the USA?

Mostly it seems to be a criticism of a few selectively picked incidents that have occurred over the last year in the America, without giving any credence or context to the aggressive culture wars occurring throughout the USA at this moment.

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,847 followers
December 14, 2019
When picking up this book, I had the distinct impression that I MIGHT be getting into a polemical debate with some sort of bias beginning to scream at Lefts or Rights... but that's the funny thing.

This book argues AGAINST triggers. Against going with your knee-jerk reactions. Against Safetyism.

A culture of safety is NOT the same thing as providing a safe physical environment. It should be obvious, but often is not, that having seatbelts in cars is not the same thing as students shouting down speakers on campus, issuing rape and death threats for people speaking of ANYTHING that they don't agree with, or equating social justice with REAL justice.

Stopping the KKK and lynchings is Justice. Making a school administrator fear for their lives because they misused a pronoun, or turning the misuse of a specific pronoun into something as nasty as actual physical molestation IS NOT JUSTICE.

And yet, people everywhere (and I mean, EVERYWHERE) are getting more and more scared of doxing, public shaming, and anonymous trolling campaigns. It has become an accepted practice to turn anyone of a different ideology into targets of ridicule and slander until both sides have no idea what the hell is going on.

What is truth? What happened to the search for truth ANYWHERE?

They sum up the book in three main points.

1. We've forgotten the adage of "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger." If someone insults you, you ought to ADAPT. If someone betrays you, ADAPT. And yet, increasingly, we're all climbing into our safe ideological niches, surrounding ourselves with ONLY those things we think we can cope with, until nothing else remains except a narrow, narrow worldview.

Open up your minds. Broaden your horizons. You don't have to agree with everyone or even anyone, but the experience WILL enrich you.

2. Following your feelings is often really, really stupid. We have minds and we must always combat our own biases every single day. Remember when you fussed about a food when you were a kid and then you realized, later, that you loved it? If we always did what our feelings said, (especially for those of us who suffer from depression,) then our suicide rates might jump higher than the death rates of cancer. Oh, and let's not forget... following our feelings when surrounded by a bunch of other fearful and angry people has another term associated with it:

MOBS. And we all know that no one is as stupid as all of us together.

3. Oh, and we must always look for fault in others. We're never wrong. It's always someone else that has done this to us. This way of thinking could NEVER backfire, of course. Unfortunately, the first two points described above are exacerbating everyone's mental health issues. And let's face it... we have TONS. Rates of murder and violence and abductions are as low as they were in the 60's and yet everyone is growing up coddled and fearful and crazy. We've lost natural socialization, not only in the physical sense (scheduled playdates versus running around and getting into and out of trouble), but also in the amount of screentime we're ALL getting. Children are maturing much, much slower than at any other time and they're unable to cope with the real world. Hell, most of us are.

We all need to open up our minds to listen as if we're wrong even while we argue passionately as if we're right.

The point is... TRUTH is getting lost in mob mentality. We all need to wake up and get courageous and stand up for our beliefs while simultaneously RETAINING AN OPEN MIND.

Otherwise, unofficially, our vaunted love of free speech is now DEAD.
Profile Image for Mike.
48 reviews9 followers
March 2, 2019
The central tenets of this book are good but incredibly repetitive and fluffed up. Towards the end of the book, I wanted to shoot myself everytime I read the word "saftyism." The book started out as an article, which explains a lot. It should've stayed an article.

Also, the Authors fail to provide compelling evidence in support of their hypothesis that we are facing a generational crisis. They largely backup their sweeping generalizations about "I-Gen" with extreme anecdotal cases. The section on mental health included a lot of good data, but that was the exception.

Lastly, this book (like many others) seems to be confused about whether it's descriptive or prescriptive in nature. Sure, it can both, but there was a confusing blend of the two that made it feel awkward. For example, there are sections with highly detailed instructions on how to practice CBT which seemed completely out of place given the general thrust of the book.
Profile Image for Ariella.
41 reviews
July 24, 2018
I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book, and will be recommending it to at least half the people I know. Its insights into the various developments over the past couple generations(parenting, social media, identity politics) weave a fascinating (if often dispiriting) and comprehensive picture of how we got to the current political climate, particularly on campus. The book is challenging in many respects, while remaining accessible and engaging. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come, and hope others will, too.
Profile Image for Robert Miller.
140 reviews4 followers
September 11, 2018
There can be little doubt that students entering our colleges and universities for the past several years are traveling to the beat of a different drum. For the most part, many of these young men and women are developmentally challenged in several ways. Their stunted growth is the result of their parent’s upbringing; the students have been coddled by their parents, trained to fear anyone outside of their immediate circles, prohibited from engaging in creative thinking, stopped from normal play activities, subjected to increased study activities following a typical school day (even at the kindergarten level), denied opportunities to explore their neighborhoods without adult supervision (lest they are kidnapped), and the list goes on.

The authors explore the negative impact of obsessive “screen time” (I-phones, computers, etc.) use and the pitfalls of social media where (especially girls) are instantly judged and scored.

All of these factors have to lead to record increases in reported cases of high anxiety, depression, impatience, intolerance, fragility, and a willingness to harshly judge others who they unreasonably deem to be threatening. These so-called “I-gen” teenagers formulate a culture where it is a “us against them” mentality—there is no middle ground. Speakers at their colleges who express ideologies different from these students are attacked and forced off of college campuses. Members of their group are “called out” and shunned if they deviate from the perspectives of the group. Even liberal professors who write or say something that even slightly hints at a philosophy different from the group are attacked. Administrators often take the coddled students to side out of fear—indeed, some college officials regard students as customers and design cushy and exotic surroundings for students—colleges are in the money business—officials also live in constant fear of lawsuits.

Authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt write a book that defines the issues and problems of the I-gen and offer possible solutions. Great book.
Profile Image for Bob.
1,778 reviews606 followers
November 8, 2018
Summary: Discusses three bad ideas that result in a culture of "safetyism" in higher education, chronicles the consequences of these bad ideas, traces factors that led to the embrace of these ideas, and how we might choose a wiser way.

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 people and evil people.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt contend that these three bad ideas constitute a well-intentioned but toxic basis for a campus culture of "safetyism." They argue that these ideas contradict ancient wisdom, psychological research on well-being, and are harmful to the individuals and communities who embrace this mindset. Lukianoff, the president of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) and Haidt, a social psychologist perhaps best known for his recent work, The Righteous Mind, began to notice, from 2013 on, an increasing trend of concern on university campuses about "triggering material," efforts to disinvite, or obstruct controversial speakers by heckling or even violence, coupled with reports of increasing levels of anxiety and fears about safety.

There seemed to be an increasing perception by university administrators that students were "fragile" and needed protection and "safe spaces." They noted the priority given to feelings, and that the response to anything that evokes negative emotions is not to consider how one ought think about the external cause, but to simply remove whatever offends or causes stress--be it course material or offensive speakers, or perceived "microaggressions." They also noted the framing of the world in terms of a toxic form of identity politics, focused on common enemies rather than common humanity--us versus them, good versus evil.

After delineating the contours and problems with these "three great untruths," the authors chronicle a number of incidents in the last five years that they believe result from these often well-intentioned but bad ideas. They chronicle violent outcomes to this thinking at Berkeley after Milo Yiannopoulos was invited to speak with no disciplinary action by the university, and at Middlebury College when controversial scholar Charles Murray attempted to speak and a hosting faculty member suffered a concussion and whiplash requiring six months of physical therapy, in attempts to disrupt the event. Perhaps not as well publicized were the "witch hunts," often against liberal faculty like Erika Christakis at Yale, who objected to an administration's paternalistic instructions about offensive Halloween costumes, suggesting that students might be mature enough to set their own norms. Students called her out as a racist, for creating an unsafe space, and sought her firing. She ultimately resigned. On many campuses, faculty feel they are walking on egg shells, often choosing to avoid anything controversial for fear that it may evoke complaints, or a witch hunt.

The authors identify six contributing factors to this culture of safetyism, devoting a chapter to each:

1. Rising political polarization, with campuses shifting leftward and increasingly distrusted by those on the right.
2. An increase in adolescent anxiety and depression beginning in 2011, significantly correlating to smartphone usage. This group began arriving on campus in 2013.
3. Paranoid parenting resulting in far less unsupervised play and greater fears of abduction (even though crime rates for this crime have dropped).
4. The decline of free play and the rise of emphasis on test preparation.
5. The growth of a bureaucracy of safetyism at universities, driven by federal mandates, risks of lawsuits, and a consumerist mentality, in which students are the consumers.
6. The quest for justice, evoked by events between 2012 and 2018 that sometimes focuses on "equal outcomes social justice" in which any demographic disparity is assumed to be the result of discrimination, and alternative explanations are themselves considered discriminatory.

The authors observe that many of these factors arise from good intentions taken to extremes and are careful to distinguish between legitimate forms of concern (like protecting physical safety) and more extreme forms of safetyism.

They conclude with three chapters on wising up, with applications to children, to universities, and to the wider society.  They argue for preparing kids for the road rather than the road for the kids. They propose that our worst enemies cannot harm us as much as our emotional reasoning. And they encourage the recognition that "the line dividing good and evil goes through the heart of every human being," and that we ought be watchful for any institution that promotes a common enemy rather than common humanity narrative. They commend the Chicago Statement (including a version of it in an appendix) that promotes free speech, academic freedom and free inquiry and sanctioning efforts to suppress speech.

The authors, particularly Greg Lukianoff, who benefited personally from this approach, advocate for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that improves mental health and coping skills through recognizing cognitive distortions and maladaptive behaviors, and challenging and changing these. Essentially, they would contend that their "three bad ideas" are both cognitive distortions and lead to maladaptive behaviors good neither for the person, nor the university, nor society. Hence, it should be understood that CBT is integral to their critique and recommendations.

Working in a collegiate setting, I've seen many of the conditions the authors describe. Most faculty I know readily resonate with the feeling that they walk on egg shells, even while being deeply committed to academic freedom and challenging students thinking. I've seen the growing sensitivity to microaggressions. I've witnessed the surprise when I've suggested that being offended is a choice--that no one can offend us unless we let them, and that there are other options. I have been concerned that universities often seem to be echo chambers for the progressive end of our political discourse, blind to the very practices they excoriate on the right.

Given the character of our wider society, it seems the last thing universities should be doing is engaging in the kinds of "coddling" Lukianoff and Haidt describe. If we are to have any hope, it will take resilient, anti-fragile people who will engage and keep engaging differing and even off-putting ideas. Most of all, in a climate of us versus them, we need people able to follow the Pauli Murray's principle: "When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them." Here's to drawing larger circles!
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,165 reviews541 followers
March 29, 2019
Clear and succinct explanations and observable outcomes for the "oversee" of safety practices in American education.

All three untruths can be easily heard and observed in various fields of teaching and higher education environments especially. I have observed them to an increased extent even within my Roman Catholic university employer environments.

The last untruth about worldview or ideas being either good/evil is becoming so endemic and evident, not only in education, but in the media language of nearly all bents that I myself, I've become discouraged to the true vitality of proper debate or discussion any longer. What role models too? Only role modeling for closed minded and grim / self-satisfied superiority to judgments of "evil" seem to have become predominant and visible.

Like anything physical, any muscle or system- if it is not used and tested it goes from weak to weaker. Human endurance and strength toward wide avenues of ideas are no different. This book illuminates the 3 tenets of "safety" practices. And what has been the results measured and oftentimes observable.

Protection and safety are not harbors for growth. This book will illuminate why that is and what can be measured since safety places and identity politics self-identity mantras have dominated environments of "learning". This book defines what has happened and what is observable. And what we see in "reactions" to attacks on free speech in the last decade.

I could not believe the reaction of DePaul University when Ben Shapiro came to do a speech and question/ answer session in Chicago. (They caved to the mob anger reactions and didn't let him or any of his aides set foot on campus with VISIBLE police/ campus security presence to keep him off. He ended up doing the session at an off campus last minute space rental. I saw the Dean tell him that he would be "arrested" if he set a foot on the campus. IN AMERICA!!) And how that administration then censored and allowed the terrible behaviors against free speech to continue, even afterwards in physical and property damage tirades- like babies having a tantrum. In the USA, this lack of regard for the 1st Amendment is disgusting. And it hurts the "protected" the most.

These tantrums are becoming multiple, multiple. Some of them with anarchy destruction and vile garbage affronts as in the Berkeley repeats. Always negating the 1st amendment base American Constitution premise beyond the human "failure" of their violent property or assault crimes.

Yes, failure will be the result of swallowing those 3 listed untruths. Especially the last one which composites inherently that every one with different "eyes" or avenues to address a solution differently than the "approved" line is not opposed or different but just "evil" on the good/bad scales of "group think allowances".

Three ideas (fallacies that are also being role modeled as well) that have been woven into our "protecting" American minds:

1. What doesn't kill you, makes you WEAKER.

2. Always trust your feelings.

3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

Safetyism is pitiable, IMHO. Political correctness "group think" judgments a major component and a symptom. This book will detail all the social trends in establishing safetyism throughout youth, childhood etc. in various social and community environments, beyond just the bureaucracies of schooling.
Profile Image for Ryan.
962 reviews
March 16, 2020
Much as I've come to admire Haidt, I'll admit that I was worried to see this title, which seems like a typical "culture wars" click bait. How did the book hold up upon reading it?

This is a reasonably argued book about extreme incidents on American college campuses and how they relate to the larger culture. The title is bad, however, because it makes the text at first glance combative in a way that I don't associate with Haidt. (I generally view him as persuading from a pretty easily established common ground, such as when he discusses his use of prozac in The Happiness Hypothesis or how he explains in Righteous Mind that he was motivated by Al Gore's defeat in the 2000 American presidential election to study moral psychology.) In my humble opinion, it is easy to see where Haidt is coming from and why he finds his conclusions convincing. That is true here, even if the title is awful.

Briefly, the book worries about a culture of "safetyism." There are three "great untruths" in safetyism, which are: 1) Fragility: what doesn't kill you makes you weaker 2) Emotional reasoning: always trust your feelings and 3) Us vs. Them: life is a battle between good and evil. They also highlight 10 distorted automatic thoughts, which are: mind reading, fortune telling (negatively predicting the future), catastrophic thinking, labelling, discounting the positive, negative filtering, overgeneralizing, dichotomous thinking, shoulds ("I should do well; if I don't, then I'm a failure"), and personalizing blame. The culture of safetyism does not challenge these distorted automatic thoughts, perhaps because it fears that it will make people feel bad about themselves, which sets off the untruths. As much as I distrust "great" anythings in social commentary about the present, I don't think it's hard to understand what they're talking about.

For anyone who's reluctant to engage with a book that gives off even a whiff of "culture wars" discourse, I'll note that there are other interesting ideas here, such "concept creep." Haidt and Lukianoff explain that "trauma" originally described physical injury. It was then expanded to psychological trauma, but with the caution that psychological trauma happens in response to extreme situations. The unexpected death of one's spouse from a sudden illness would not qualify as traumatic under the second generation definition. However, the third generation definition now is determined by how the person characterizes the emotion. So if the unexpected death of one's spouse feels awful and the bereaved labels it traumatic, by this definition it is traumatic.

As much as I'd like to promote Coddling as more than a book about culture wars questions, it does explore how they play out in Gen Z on college campuses. I was familiar with some of the violent protests the book explored, but not all of them. They really are awful, sometimes obnoxious, to read about. Are they typical of the larger culture or does it just feel like it?

I was also surprised by Haidt and Lukianoff's history of how right-wing media outlets respond to anything that even vaguely threatens their worldview. At one point, they discuss a professor's theory about ancient statues--that they were not alabaster white originally but only later aged to those colors. In other words, the ancient world has become whiter in historical accounts. Fascinating! What happened when this theory was reported on right-wing news outlets? Threats of rape and death from people near and far.

Let's imagine that we might include Coddling as part of a stack. What else might one read? I'd include Haidt's previous book, Righteous Mind, Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, and Nagle's Kill All Normies. What about Storr's Unpersuadables, a book that explores things that seem ridiculous and twists them until they seem convincing, or at least not ridiculous. (Russell is also quite good at this in his History of Western Philosophy, perhaps because he feels one should understand why people feel they are right before figuring out why they are wrong.) I've since read Saslow's Rising Out of Hatred, which may be one very effective demonstration of how campuses are not inherently dysfunctional. In it, the college population ostracizes a white nationalist, but some students also reach out to him to try to reverse his views. Maybe Haidt is focusing on atypical scenarios.

We are not as good at empathy as we think we are, and it's difficult but worthwhile to charitably study views we are skeptical of. It's perhaps worth noting that I only picked up this book, with its click baity title, because I had a reading relationship with Haidt from his previous work. We live within bubbles that we are hardly aware of.

*P.S. Since reading this book, I've heard Ezra Klein talk about these issues on his podcast (It's the Ask Ezra episode, somewhere around 3/4s in.) He is also going to have Haidt on the show--update again: it was interesting.
Profile Image for Ill D.
Author 1 book8,614 followers
October 14, 2018
In spite of an incredibly Pollyana-ish ending, Coddling of the American Mind is an otherwise superbly well written and well researched book about one of the most pressing issues of contemporary American politics: Political Correctness. Standing comfortably aside modern intellectual heavyweights such as Jordan Peterson who have critiqued our cultural milieu, I was not the least bit surprised with the message within. However, I was particularly surprised to discover that A: the authors are neither Republicans nor Right-Wing in any fashion (as stated in the book, they’ve voted Democrat their whole lives) and B: That Political Correctness is just one gear in the machine of the world before us.

Compounded with Safetyism (which is mind-bogglingly out of place in the safest era in recorded history), For-Profit-Colleges (that want to rope in customers for as long as possible), and a newly mutated ladder in life in which most every aspect of maturity has been delayed, Haidt and Co. have presented a well-rounded picture that is deservingly multi-faceted and complex yet eminently readable and accessible for anyone with an IQ over 90. Given all the source material used, I was pleasantly surprised to read such an enjoyably well written tome that is as pertinent as it is convincing.

While I certainly don’t agree with all their politics, conclusions (and even some of the research itself), having found myself working with Millennial peers over the past few years, this book has made me all the more aware of the immense shifts in culture and attitudes that have forged this generation and their values. For the most part, there really is, “nothing new under the sun,” but, for this generation, and the next, a whole host of changes have occurred and will certainly continue to occur and I hope we can have excellent researchers and educators as Haidt and Co. to help us make sense of the complexity before us.

Thanks for listening.
Profile Image for Edward Sullivan.
Author 4 books201 followers
October 17, 2018
This urgent, important book should be read by everyone, especially parents and educators. The authors examine the root of divisiveness plaguing American society, the increasing inability of individuals of all political persuasions to engage in rational, intelligent, thoughtfully reasoned debate and dialogue. Complicit in this alarming decline are institutions of higher learning embracing emotionalism over critical and analytical thinking, dialectics, and abandoning their sacred obligation to defend academic and intellectual freedom. Equally complicit are parents who smother their children with overprotection to the point that they are emotionally and intellectually infantilized. The consequences of having a generation unable and/or unwilling to engage intellectually and thoughtfully with ideas that make them uncomfortable are profoundly dire for society, opening the door to forms of authoritarianism across the political spectrum.
Profile Image for Justin Norman.
119 reviews2 followers
September 25, 2018
When I read Haidt's book, "The Righteous Mind", I found it to be the most important book I'd read in years, because it so accurately seemed to capture the central issues liberals and conservatives in America were having communicating with one another. This book zooms in to highlight these issues in even more accurate detail, in great part due to the fact that it was very recently written and published. Some examples: the blocking of political opponents from speaking publicly, the trending lie that if one feels unsafe one *is* unsafe, and the practice of "common enemy identity politics" as opposed to "common humanity identity politics". While the authors focus their attention on these issues as they appear on college campuses, I see very similar problems in many areas outside of colleges and outside the usual college age range. If I could recommend one political book for my friends to read this year, it would be this one, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum. It skewers poor, distorted forms of communication using very recent examples, and offers productive suggestions for how to achieve social justice goals in healthier ways.
Profile Image for Scott Rhee.
1,788 reviews63 followers
January 17, 2019
I haven’t been on a college campus in about 25 years. Things have changed: I get it. I wasn’t aware, however, until reading Greg Lukianoff and Jonathon Haidt’s book “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure”, how things have changed so terribly.

If you’ve followed the news at all in the past couple years, you’ll get a sense of how fucked up things are, but the media doesn’t always capture the whole story, and in today’s politically divisive atmosphere, the media is going to skew facts depending on where one stands, politically: those on the left see its significance overblown and exaggerated by the right, while those on the right see it as a sign of the apocalypse. The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle.

But things are really bad, and Lukianoff/Haidt have spent nearly a decade rigorously studying the whys and wherefores and hows of the whole mess. Their conclusion? Well-intentioned but nevertheless bad parenting, coupled with the rise of social media and roughly three extremely awful ideas that seemed to have permeated our culture as a whole, have created the perfect storm of an overprotected, anxious, depressed, and fragile generation of kids who can’t do anything.

Lukianoff/Haidt can pretty much pinpoint exactly when things started going to shit. The year 2013; which is the year when kids born in 1995 started going to college. These kids, known as the iGen (anyone born in 1995 and beyond, during the years in which the Internet basically exploded in popularity), were a generation of kids who have, for the most part, been coddled and protected by smothering, overprotective “helicopter” parents. These are kids who, for the most part, spent most of their childhood indoors in front of a computer screen rather than socializing with other kids the old-fashioned way: outdoors and completely unsupervised, like those of us who grew up in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

For some reason, parents of the iGen instilled in their kids the sense that they were fragile creatures who could be easily hurt, maimed, or killed by anything that made them uncomfortable or frightened. Whether it was walking home from school, going to the mall with friends, watching zombie movies, or listening to speakers who espoused ideas that threatened to jostle their set religious and political beliefs, these kids learned that taking risks and being challenged was a bad thing. Herein lies the first of the three Great Untruths that Lukianoff/Haidt refer to as one of the underlying reasons that kids are the way they are:

The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
Clearly, this is a reworking of Friedrich Nietzche’s famous aphorism, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, which is basically a common theme in most classic literature and philosophy. It is the idea that in suffering and adversity one gain’s an appreciation for life and true consciousness. Seriously, everyone from Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Sigmund Freud has alluded to this idea.

Yet, somewhere, somehow, in the late-20th century and early-21st century, this idea got flipped on its head.

Lukianoff/Haidt believe that it started out with the best intentions. Parents want their kids to be safe. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when parents started going overboard and sheltering kids from everything out of a misguided belief that keeping kids away from things that could potentially cause injury (physical as well as mental), they were unknowingly creating paranoia and crippling anxiety in their kids.

Protecting kids from dangerous objects is one thing. Protecting them from dangerous ideas goes against everything most psychologists and scientists would deem a healthy upbringing: “A culture that allows the concept of “safety” to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy. (p. 29)”

This culture of “Safetyism” that has evolved as a result is what has contributed to college campuses in which students have protested professors, speakers, and other students for saying things that they not only deem “offensive” but also “damaging” to their worldview and belief systems. Conservatives have cruelly dubbed these kids “snowflakes”, but it is simply a natural byproduct of what Lukianoff/Haidt refer to as the second Great Untruth.

The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings.
We’re probably all guilty of spreading this one. Some of the blame can be handed to our collective national reactions to 9/11, in which it became an acceptable knee-jerk reaction to report anything suspicious, regardless of how trivial. “See Something, Say Something” was a popular ad campaign in the years immediately subsequent to September 11, 2001.

There is something to be said for listening to one’s inner voice sometimes. If you get a bad vibe from your weird uncle or that older kid down the street that’s always trying to lure kids into his house with candy, maybe you should listen to those feelings.

Unfortunately, some kids have taken this approach way too far, to the point that anyone who says anything that is deemed “offensive” (a rather subjective label), intentionally or not, is an awful bigoted person who has committed a crime against their person. Needless to say, this does not cultivate a healthy learning environment.

This is why the incidents of “disinviting” guest speakers to college campuses has risen in the past few years. It’s why the UC Berkley campus---a college once known as a bastion of free speech---recently erupted in violence by protestors who refused to let guest speakers speak.

It goes against everything that a free speech advocate believes in, and the irony is that these students believed that they were protesting in the name of “tolerance”.

It also goes against the very idea of education, as expressed by Hanna Holborn Gray: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make people think. (p. 51)”

Unfortunately, in this toxic atmosphere of political divisions and bitterness, the third Great Untruth rears its head.

The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People.

Life isn’t simple, or black and white. There’s a lot of grey areas that can be confusing and uncomfortable to deal with.

One of the toughest grey areas to grasp is the idea that no one is completely good or evil, that we are all split down the middle. Unfortunately, an entire generation has apparently grown up to believe the opposite: that there are good people (us) who must constantly, vigilantly, stand up to the forces of evil people (them).

In the nineteenth-century, Karl Marx simplified the dichotomy of man by separating people into the bourgeoisie (the capitalists, or rich people) vs. the proletariat (the workers). Today, the split has morphed into liberals versus conservatives, or the Left vs. the Right. There used to be a time when the Left and the Right simply disagreed on issues but managed to remain civil, knowing that neither side was necessarily right or wrong, good or evil, just different. This has changed, especially in the minds of young people. Today, most college students (a vast majority of which tend to lean left) view those on the Right as an enemy; a particularly evil one, too.

College campuses, which are predominantly liberal, have made it very difficult for conservatives. Conservative professors have seen a rise in administrations chastising or firing them for seemingly innocuous slights, more often than not interpreted as offenses against a student or students.

This has resulted in a stressful “walking on eggshells” by conservatives in an attempt to not garner the wrath of liberal students. It has become so bad that many conservative professors simply remove parts of their curricula that they think students will find “offensive” or simply quit. Neither option is conducive to a healthy learning environment.

A Simple Fix

Lukianoff/Haidt don’t just examine the problem. They even offer solutions, some of which are so common sense that it is frightening that most parents, teachers, and college administrators haven’t already enacted them. Unfortunately, therein lies part of the problem.

While it’s easy to make fun of or even feel pity for these college kids, it’s not always easy to assess blame, especially when the blame rests on all of us: parents, teachers, college administrators, politicians, scientists. Everyone has helped to perpetuate the untruths mentioned here, so it is up to us to recognize what we’ve done wrong and correct it.

One way to do that is read this book. Seriously, this book should be required reading for every parent today.
Profile Image for Tristram Shandy.
679 reviews192 followers
August 15, 2020
Never Judge a Book by Its Title

Admittedly, a title like The Coddling of the American Mind might make you expect of cultural pessimist’s rant on how things in this word, or, preferably, country, are going to pot because people are just no longer what they used to be. And they never will be, any more, so that if you want to keep up with things, there is no alternative but mental potty-training. However, the authors, lawyer and First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and psychologist Jonathan Haidt, explain in their introduction how it came about that this rather provocative title was chosen, and if you care to read further than the first few words before indulging in the emotional pleasure of feeling offended, you will find that there is a second title, How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, which at least gives the other side the benefit of the doubt, by assuming they are being motivated by good intentions.

The authors are concerned about the change of the intellectual climate on university campuses with the advent of the iGen students, a development which is marked by calls for safe spaces, trigger warnings, demands to disinvite speakers who voice ideas that may challenge certain students‘ beliefs, thereby making them feel uncomfortable, the establishment of a call-out culture and the spread of the ideology of safetyism. The latter is characterized by the creep-down of the word safety, which is no longer restricted to meaning physical safety but also the more vague concept of safety from unsettling feelings, mental discomfort and doubts, or simply from having to face thoughts, ideas and beliefs which one actually opposes. In short, the climate at universities, but also in society as a whole, has become more and more hostile to the free expression of thoughts that are incompatible with mainstream beliefs.

Lukianoff and Haidt make out three ideas or modes of thinking which they hold responsible for this change in attitudes and intellectual climate and which, they say, not only endanger free speech and productive academic discussion but also, in the long run, harm those who embrace them in their daily lives. These bad ideas are

1) What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. (The Untruth of Fragility),
2) Always trust your feelings. (The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning),
3) Life is a battle between good people and evil people. (The Untruth of Us vs. Them).

I don’t want to explain these three detrimental ways of thinking in this short book review, mainly because you might want to read about them yourself in the book discussed here, but also because anyone who has noticed how indignation and public shaming competetions are run in social but also mainstream media knows in a way how these untruths work and how we are heading more and more towards a . Before I go on talking about this book, using these seemingly bad, bad words, it may be well to say that Lukianoff and Haidt are anything but polemical. Instead, they work upon the academic principle of presenting the arguments of the other side in the best light possible, trying to understand the motivations and intentions that lead to ideas and measures they themselves strongly disagree with. There is sound intellectual honesty and fairness at the bottom of this book, which is, by the way, a good example of how to avoid the third of the above-listed untruths, and which is also a prerequisite for starting a real discussion instead of shouting at and vilifying each other.

The authors show how the three untruths work in university life where they start to hamper scientific progress and the exchange of ideas and viewpoints but also make it hard, or even impossible, to really prepare students for life. Then they present the sources from which the three faulty ideas sprang, namely the change of the political and social climate as such (e.g. through the rise of a provocation culture and apodictic thinking on both sides of the political spectrum), the rise of depression and anxiety among adolescents and children, the rise of overprotective parenting and the decline of free, unsupervised play due to a culture of safetyism, a „Cover Your Ass“ bureaucracy in schools and universities, and erroneous assumptions about the concept of social justice in modern-day political discussions and governmental acts.

At the end of the book, the two authors dedicate a lot of time to showing how some of the fateful developments that lead to the spread of the three untruths can be remedied, one of them being the approach of preparing the child for the road rather than the road for the child, thus making children and adolescents actually stronger. All in all, their criticism and analysis of the three untruths is highly convincing, all the more so as they avoid simplistic finger-pointing and instead treat their subject-matter with an impressive degree of intellectual honesty. This book may be a bit repetitive at times, but on the whole, it really helped me get a better understanding of a trend I have also noticed in my own country, Germany, and which I think is something to worry about.
Profile Image for Sleepless Dreamer.
842 reviews199 followers
March 27, 2022
I’m taking 12 courses this semester so basically, writing reviews is gonna be tough but I refuse to give in.

Anyways, I was worried this would be a Republican boomer rant about spoiled college students and I am pleasantly surprised that it's very much not the case.

Well researched, the authors claim that there is a culture on campuses that doesn't allow true openness and critical conversations. They describe the three untruths that have taken place:

1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
2. Always trust your feelings.
3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

Accepting these three ideas leads young people to being unable to have a free debate on issues. If someone feels offended, they are right, they are in danger and the other side is evil. We do not want to have conversations on topics that support evil people or hurt people’s feelings.

The authors point out that this isn't just a left wing problem- both the right and the left feel that offensive ideas should not be allowed in public spaces. This is an important point- I’m used to seeing this as a left wing problem but truly, it is not a partisan problem.

At times, this book drawls on more than it should. There were parts that weren’t very necessary (for example, the extensive chapters on parenting). However, the core idea here is eye opening and the plethora of examples highlights how pervasive this is. I do feel worried about the ability to think critical and openly nowadays. How can we face conversation topics when we’re unable to engage in them without genuinely fearing their damage?

The interesting question is, of course, where’s the limit of freedom of speech. In the last month, Jimmy Carr and Whoopi Goldberg have made horrible comments about the Holocaust. When Carr suggested the Roma genocide is “a positive”, it seems genuinely malevolent, like “humor” doesn’t cut it, can’t excuse it in any way. Goldberg, meanwhile, tried to argue that the Holocaust wasn’t about race. This seems mostly ignorant. It is a reflection of the narrow American perception of race (”white people killing white people”) and the false view of Judaism as only a religion. Really, the fact that she stole a Jewish last name because she thought it would help her succeed is far more disgusting. Give that back, Whoopi Johnson.

What is our response? Goldberg was suspended for two weeks. Carr didn’t even get that (totally proving that Jews do control the media and that as such, we should share more of our power with the Roma). This isn’t right. What we need to do is educate. The idea isn’t that people aren’t allowed to say certain things but rather, that they know better. By silencing these voices, we don’t bother to actively correct them or to have a genuine conversation in which people will learn. Goldberg might remember that she was silenced but will she understand that the Holocaust was very much about race?

Our ability to educate relies on academic integrity and critical thinking. It means going beyond our emotions and into intellectual thought. This means that we need to handle opposing thoughts. We need to be able to explain our own opinions and stances beyond our feelings.

People around me often tease me for being too PC. I accept this in stride. I would rather nag people around me than contribute to words or frameworks that are needlessly offensive and cruel. Words have power- why waste it? Why hurt people for no reason?

And yet, I’ve always believed that speaking in a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t have certain conversations. You can express concerns about medical interventions for trans kids without misgendering them, you can talk about inequality without racial slurs and stereotypes, you can be worried about radicalism without being hateful towards minority groups. In fact, our ability to express what we find problematic without insulting people is incredibly important in order to change minds and policy. If we have valid concerns and reservations, we should be able to speak about them.

This book emphasized the way that people really feel in danger by words. It’s not fake. This is interesting because I’ve always thought someone can become desensitized. The authors describe this as anti-fragility. You grow stronger and capable of handling it. Is this strength necessarily a good thing? I’ve heard so many bad takes about the lgbt+ community that I am no longer offended by homophobia. I’m annoyed but I don’t think I am in danger when I hear it. I don’t feel threatened, I feel irritated at worst.

On the one hand, I do feel like this makes me stronger, untouchable. On the other hand, it’s taken me so very long to reach this point (shoutout to 18 year old me who was so terrified of coming out). Wouldn’t it have been nicer if I didn’t have to get to this point? If I would have never experienced any homophobia whatsoever? Can we demand of marginalized people (in whatever framework) to develop strength because we do not want to develop understanding towards them?

To conclude, reading this book helped me find words and a framework for what is seen often online. There’s room to question the liberal usage of anecdotes as a main tool for making arguments but I do think there’s a lot of truth in this book. It’s been so long since I read it so I worry that this review doesn't grasp everything I wanted to say, but oh well.

What I'm Taking with Me
- Israel is always a solid 10 years behind the West in terms of culture so I can’t quite see this in my university. If anything, there are too many fights. My university really does have a diverse group of people (or, the girl across from me has a sticker of Palestine from the river to the sea on her laptop while a few minutes ago, I saw someone with a necklace of the Land of Israel with a star of David on it).

- I am so ready to be a grouchy old person complaining about the youth.

- In one of my courses, we talked about the fatal flaw of liberalism- liberalism seeks to accept anyone but those who are not liberal themselves. In this way, liberalism itself is not liberal and is, in fact, exactly like every ideology- it accepts those who accept it. This dilemma always gives me an existential crisis like oh my god, if we ban racism, we aren’t liberal. If we allow racism, we aren’t liberal, either. Ahh.

Reading this book made me feel robbed of playtime like wow, have I wasted my entire youth preparing for academia?

Review to come!
Profile Image for Murtaza .
664 reviews3,402 followers
July 18, 2020
Like any other living thing on earth human beings are adaptive. To be strong, they need a Darwinian fitness environment that exposes them to calculated levels of stress. On a physical level, we all accept that the stress of exercise at an appropriate level makes us stronger. But something similar applies to our psychological lives. Some level of adversity and discomfort is not just desirable but necessary to make people mentally and spiritually strong enough to face the vicissitudes and challenges of existence. Without struggles and hardship, which, whether we try to avoid them or not، at some point are inevitable in life, we will be unable to become well-rounded people.

As the authors contend, a younger generation is now coming of age which, reared in certain institutions, has been raised on an unhealthy expectation of insulation from discomfort. They are likely to become the new elites of society and have an attitude unfamiliar to older generations, as well as people from lower classes (the majority of people). The habits of mind being inculcated to them are ones of catastrophic thinking, emotional reasoning and Manichean moral frameworks. Rather than as a political disagreement, even a fierce disagreement, the presence of unwelcome ideas is being medicalized and described as a threat to people's physical safety and mental well-being. Even wrong words, regardless of intent, are considered as somehow "violent" in and of themselves.

To put it another way people are being encouraged by certain institutions to be as psychologically weak as possible. The authors identify three "Great Untruths" being taught to many young people: that bad experiences make you weaker, that life can be described simply as a battle between oppressor and oppressed classes and that emotional reasoning is something positive. This is bad advice and something like teaching millions of people to do the opposite of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on themselves. It is inculcating ideas of intense victimhood even in materially privileged people and teaching them at this is a normal way to feel, while also make them hyper-sensitive to perceived signs of disrespect. These attitudes are now slowly trickling down through elite cultural production and also undergoing "concept creep" in which old definitional categories of negative social phenomena are slowly and steadily expanding to a wider range of behaviors without anyone knowing where the boundaries are really located. Needless to say this is not a recipe for creating a happy and well-adjusted society.

There are certain expressions of language and sociological behaviors among the generation that came just after millennials that are difficult for me to comprehend. This book helped me understand them a bit better. There is also a fascinating (and somewhat disturbing) intellectual lineage going back to the critical theory scholar Herbert Marcuse and an essay he wrote titled "Repressive Tolerance" in the 1960s that seems to inform much cultural left-wing discourse today and that also receives some attention here. Some of the sections about "campus culture" left me wondering whether previous generations of university students were not also similarly culturally alien to those older than them, but simply aged into more sensible views later in life. This had long been my assumption, though I'm admittedly unsure of the mechanics. In any case, this book helped me understand several things like that which were culturally unfamiliar to me. It is soberly written, reasonable and non-polemic despite its provocative title.
Profile Image for Darren Lipomi.
31 reviews2 followers
September 9, 2018
Happily connected to science rather than a litany of complaints about "kids these days."
Profile Image for Chris Sosa.
Author 1 book10 followers
October 17, 2018
"The Coddling of the American Mind," a collaboration between Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, is a solid step above Jonathan Haidt's previous work ("The Righteous Mind") and his first book in collaboration with Lukianoff, who serves as the current president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

"Coddling" addresses the troubling fragility of Generation Z, which the book describes as a result of an irrational cultural phenomenon the authors call "safetyism." The authors suggest that young people are anti-fragile by nature but being conditioned to behave with heightened fragility due to the messages they're receiving from educators, parents and peers.

The authors highlight academic institutions and parent-child relationships as primary enforcers of the phenomenon of heightened fragility. But rather than mocking Generation Z as "snowflakes" and telling them to get over themselves, the authors offer practical solutions with compassion and understanding.

A must-read for educators, parents and anyone who finds themselves struggling to guide the young people in their lives.
Profile Image for Caitlin Merritt.
363 reviews11 followers
August 2, 2018
Thank you to Goodreads and the publisher for the free advance copy!!

This was an excellent and informative read. If you've ever wondered and worried about the worrying trend of people being publically shamed and harassed to the point that they've lost their reputations, careers and sometimes even physical safety just for expressing an unpopular opinion, this book is an absolute must read. It's actually bipartisan and takes a long scathing look at worrying trends from the left as well as the right and really delves deep into how and why these problems exist, why they're getting so much worse and how we can try to fix them.

I can't recommend this one enough. Its thoroughly researched and backed up not just by social science data, but often hard science. I feel thoroughly more informed for having read it and it was honestly a pretty smooth read.

Five thought-provoking stars.
Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books331 followers
November 11, 2019
Can't say I learned anything new from this book. My kids are Millennials in their early 30's. The authors are directing their exposition to the parents of the generation that followed, what they call iGen (internet generation), sometimes referred to as Generation Z. I agree that what they call Three Bad Ideas are bad. Our approach was the opposite. As soon as our kids were old enough, we explained that life was a process of overcoming their fears.

I was already familiar with their examples of overreaction on both the Right and the Left from following the news. And have already read many books on the impact of social media on the psyche and social life of users. I agree with the authors that the release of the iPhone in 2007 is a major milestone in all of this.


Some firsthand reportage from a former dean of students at Stanford....

Profile Image for Eric Morse.
Author 10 books28 followers
September 15, 2018
This book addresses issues that are defining our age. That is nothing remarkable in itself, unless you realize that these issues and the perspectives shared in this book have become taboo in our identity-saturated culture. What the authors have done is spoken the unspeakable. In so doing, they have nobly spotted the dangers of political correctness, 'vindictive protectiveness', and 'safetyism', and provided a stark warning to educators and laymen alike.

Lukianoff and Haidt do not provide the most robust explanation of how we got here, preferring to remain local and focus on the psychological rather than sociological, political, economic, or philosophical. This is to their credit as non-partisan observers. But it does leave the reader hoping for more depth. It is telling that the authors do not mention Allan Bloom's masterpiece precursor to this work, which takes a broader philosophical view and more adequately explains the origins of our problems.

So too do the solutions provided leave much to be desired. Most are commonsensical and some are not practical. The intention is good, and they follow the argument, but they leave the reader wondering if there is something more.

Still, The Coddling provides a number of valuable insights. The open-eyed reader will be astonished at the richness of the psychological concepts that Lukianoff and Haidt infuse into their narrative: Concept Creep, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Institutionalized Disconfirmation, and Problems of Progress to name a few of the more fascinating ones. Combining these with the plentiful on-campus examples of coddling gone amok, the authors offer perhaps the best summary of our modern university problems to date.

Altogether, this book will serve well anyone who is bold enough to face the uncomfortable truth that we are setting up our future generations for depression and failure, and hopeful enough to do something about it.
Profile Image for Katie.
303 reviews1 follower
October 15, 2018
The flaws of this book cloud the conclusion. Some of the flaws:
-Anecdotes about campus events are used despite authors demand that everyone be more focused on facts and data. Some of the incidents described are indeed examples of extreme sensitivity and intolerance. Worrisome trend, but not convincing that campuses have abandoned free speech.
-Serious lack of time spent on investigating and confirming the issues college students care about. The Trump administration is a frightening turn, threatening institutions and norms - shouldn't we expect young people to protest?
-CBT as a treatment for anxiety I get, but as a treatment for real threats and oppression? So insulting! We have an administration threatening to take away healthcare, women's health care, rights of immigrants, gay people, minorities. What happens when a lesbian girl is told a speaker believes she is deviant who needs to go to conversion camp? She should practice CBT and remember the speaker has good intentions? When Richard Spencer coming to campus to spout off about peaceful ethnic cleansing, should students practice CBT?

Just because the book does justice to some topics - like IGen social issues, helicopter parenting and safteyism, - does not mean the book works. I also happen to agree this generation does not conceive of the First Amendment like my generation does. College kids raised with awareness of inequality in American, we were raised to worry about authoritarianism and the Cold War. I think the topic deserves scrutiny, but these authors failed in my opinion.
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