The Coddling of the American Mind – Book Review

I read The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt a few weeks ago and it helped put into words several things that I have been thinking about, but couldn’t quite wrap my head around. However, I also needed a few weeks to sort out a many things that the book made me think about and to completely re-write this post over twenty times before I was able to bring about some clarity to how I was thinking.

There is a lot to digest about this topic.

Reading the book confirmed some thoughts I have been having about the challenges of political nastiness, news media biases, attitudes towards and on college campuses, along with the increasing lack of civility on social media and the world at large.

No, I don’t agree with everything the authors discuss in the book. But The Coddling of the American Mind did make me stop, think and look at things in the news or on social media from a different perspective than I did before reading it.

Which is a good thing?

Does it mean that everything they say or recommend in the book should taken as be gospel?

Of course not.

We all form our own opinions based upon our experiences and knowledge base.

The Coddling of the American Mind has been out for a few years, but from what I am seeing, it still remains mostly pertinent. I will say that this book is one of those that is a must-read for anyone who has questions about why we are becoming so narrow-minded in the academic world or even in the world at-large. It may not have all the answers, but you might find a few.

With all the “isms” and other things going on today, the conflicts between groups/tribes continue to grow larger, all while they attempt to show who is more righteous. Yeah, some scary stuff from all directions or at least how it seems to someone who is not at any of the extremes.

Below are two quotes from the book that I found hit home:

Great Untruths

While many propositions are untrue, to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:

  • It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  • It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
  • It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

from The Coddling of the American Mind

Students as Consumers

Eric Adler, a classics professor at the University of Maryland, distilled the argument in a 2018 Washington Post article. “The fundamental cause [of campus intolerance],” he suggests, “isn’t students’ extreme leftism or any other political ideology” but “a market-driven decision by universities, made decades ago, to treat students as consumers—who pay up to $60,000 per year for courses, excellent cuisine, comfortable accommodations and a lively campus life.”

from The Coddling of the American Mind

What did I learn

It would be all too easy to get up on my high horse, spout all kinds of lofty words about what I read in The Coddling of the American Mind, then fire off a series of mindless quotes, provide examples of incidents I have been a part of and then watch myself become part of the problem that is going on around us.

Instead I will limit myself to the two quotes, a few observations and then shut-up. If you decide to read the book (which I definitely recommend), you can think for yourself.​

I know there is a difference between uncomfortable topics and hate speech which should not be tolerated in any venue or source, but who gets to decide the differences, especially when it is open to interpretation or not something that has been deemed illegal? That I think is the question that hasn’t been and probably can’t be answered with any degree of sensitivity or sensibleness in today’s polarized climate.

From where I sit, the coddling of the American mind on and off campus, along with the political polarization only seems to be getting worse, not better since the book was published. America is no stranger to decisive rhetoric, thinking or ideologies and historically it has been worse several times. While today’s nastiness and narrow-mindedness is louder and distributed to more people quickly and easily in today’s world, it is not the worst it has ever been.

It just seems that way with social media and the ability to communicate instantly across the planet. Everyone now has a loudspeaker and platforms to quickly share their opinions, values and ideology, and many are choosing to do so.

I have a feeling that is at least a part of what is so scary about what we are seeing and hearing.

Personally in all my naivety I want to believe that things will improve, that things are not as bad as they seem to be and that future leaders on campus and at the local, state, and national levels will learn many lessons from what is happening now and make the United States and the World a better place to live when their time to lead does come. I just hope that it doesn’t come too late.

Although I do wonder if thinking so deeply about the issues raised in the book does any good beyond getting myself wound up, because most everything is beyond my control for the most part?

How about you, have you read the book?

What do you think?

One comment

  1. I haven’t read this book. Good post and good insight – a reminder for us not to be too strongly influenced by media. Like you, I also believe that things will improve in the United States and around the world, and pray that this will happen sooner rather than later.


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