If you have followed many of my posts (such as here and here), you will know I am a big Jonathan Haidt fan. Reading his book “The Righteous Mind: How Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” had me nodding my head in agreement and eagerly reading with much interest. I did have to remember that I need to look in the mirror as he was writing not only everyone else, but he was writing about how I act and behave. It is just easier to see in other people. So when I saw he had another book out (with a co-author Greg Lukianoff), “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure”, I had to read it.
I found this interesting in a different way than Haidt’s previous books. It explained some definitive changes going on at college campuses – especially those on the coasts of the US. In typical Haidt fashion, he isn’t trying to bash liberals or conservatives. He is trying to understand what is changing and trying to figure out why.
The book focuses on 3 main psychological principles and about what happens to children when parents and educators, acting with the best of intentions, implement policies that are inconsistent with those principles. They are grouped as:
- Young people are anti-fragile NOT what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
Thus, prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.
- We are all prone to emotional reasoning and confirmation bias, and should NOT always trust your feelings.
Thus, your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as own thoughts unguarded, but once mastered no one can help you as much – not even your father or your mother.
- We are all prone to dichotomous (black and white) thinking and tribalism and life is NOT a simple battle of good people vs bad people.
Thus the heart of good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
There are certainly some interesting things to ponder on with points 2 and 3 in relation to the Mormon church, but I wanted to focus a bit on the first one. I have heard this also described as the generation where everyone always got a trophy.
The book focuses on changes that occurred as iGen generation started entering colleges. My summation of the author’s point on this was simply that parents and society have focused too much on having an environment with minimized conflict or pain. This isn’t limited to “helicopter” parenting. The book postulates that this parenting style tends to create individuals that are quickly offended and often feel they are being “assaulted” when someone else has a different view or opinion. Whereas people a generation or two ago would assume a remark or word was not made in a malicious way is now taken to be a micro-aggression. If a person FEELS they offended, that is all that matters and intent is of no consequence.
It wasn’t in this book, but I heard about a man who went to visit his father (I apologize that can’t recall were to attribute this to). His father told his son about “an Oriental couple” that lived close. The son verbally jumped all over his father for using such an outdated and offensive term as “Oriental” and told him that “Asian” was the proper term. He told his dad that he needed to get with the times and stop being so offensive. The dad started to leave and said something along the lines of, “Sorry I can’t keep up with all the new words, but I volunteered to take my ‘ORIENTAL’ friend and his wife to her doctors appointment.”
The book is filled with what as a late baby boomer I can’t help but see as quite wacko behavior on some college campuses. I consider myself “woke” enough to realize that I really have a lot of work to do in understanding the lived experiences of others (I loved the post the other day at Exponent II as one example).
The authors use an analogy with nut allergies. Back some time ago it was suggested that it would be safer to keep any nut products away from young kids. This of course was done to protect them from allergic reactions to nuts. But the fallout of this being widely adopted was a significant increase in the number of individuals with nut allergies. It was found that not exposing young kids to nuts didn’t allow their immune system to “figure out” how to appropriately react to nuts and this resulted in an increased percentage of the allergies. This actually reminded me of a study that suggesting that providing “sterile” environments is bad for children’s health. The title of an article in the Washington Post titled: “More evidence that the key to allergy-free kids is giving them plenty of dirt — and cows” It seems that the nice “aroma” on dairy farms may actually be a good thing.
The parallel he draws is that children that are not exposed to others with different views tend to not be as emotionally resilient and they are not able to withstand the real “nutty” world we live in (pun intended). He focuses on college life where he comments how a larger college administrative staff often attempts to fill this need of its customers (students). Administrative staff coming to students aid too quickly for anything anybody finds offensive, the administrators are actually making the students even less able to deal with these issues. This in turn does not prepare students for life after college. They also argue that the increase in anxiety and depression are in the mix also due to some of the same causes.
Just as I was reading this book, a fellow Wheat & Tares blogger made the following comment:
The word on the street is that while Missionaries are better prepared doctrinally, they are not prepared to work. And that is the biggest issue. There is also the issue with the disconnection from social media and video games. Not to mention anxiety and depression. Many parents have had this experience. In some cases, some Missionaries can’t handle the rejection and hostility they encounter. The problem is as much a parental issue as a missionary issue.
I was surprised that this friend had not read this book as he is saying much of the same thing that the book puts forward. Part of this discussion with my friend was focusing on rumors of possibly changing the age for missionaries. The previous changes in missionary age requirements certainly created a surge of missionaries and greatly increased the percentage of sisters serving. I would assume that given the number of baptisms didn’t increase, the average number of baptisms per missionary went down. And on a mission there isn’t a much better reward than baptisms. I know on my mission that was drilled into us with the expression, “The ONLY reason you are here is to baptize.” I know I saw a few issues with the missionaries in our ward after the age change that were not experienced previously. We even had one sister missionary that left a real vibe of, “Hey, I sacrificed and came out on my mission, now it is your job as the members to bring investigators to me. So get busy.”
I also read some of Jana Riess’ latest blog stating that one third of missionaries are coming home early and only a small fraction of those are for “unresolved transgressions”.
It is no surprise that one of the sets of General Conference rumors deals with changing some things up for missionaries. I have not seen anything clear, but some of the rumors are about options for shortening the length. That certainly would help some to be able to know their mission could be shorter. I served during the period where elders were doing 18-month missions. I didn’t have to learn a new language and I found 18 months was plenty enough to build thick callouses on my knuckles while knocking on doors. I have 0% guilt about having “only” served 18 months. I paid for just about all of my mission, so I was really glad it was only as long as it was.
I do feel much progress has been made in helping missionaries that return home early feel welcome and much less shameful. There is still work to do as often the most critical of those coming home early are the missionaries themselves. They often can be hard on themselves while the ward is fully accepting them with love.
What has your experience been with the mission age change and what changes would you suggest as far as changes?
Do you see an issue with missionaries growing up being a bit too “sheltered” and unable to perform the duties of a mission?