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  • Writer's pictureJulia Gillis

The Coddling of the American Mind; Book Review

By Greg Lukianoff & Johnathan Haidt

"How good intentions & bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure."

Another fascinating read.

In the years between 2013 - 2017 some disturbing behavior & events erupted on college campuses that spread far & wide into the Western culture bubble.

  • Students began asking that triggering material be removed from courses.

  • Provocative (invited) speakers started being heckled during campus presentations, then protested against & then needed protection from mobs & faced death threats...from students.

  • Groups would demand 'safe spaces' be provided while guest speakers would be on campus - for students not even attending the speech.

  • Genuinely innocent emails & statements from professors or campus staff faced extreme accusations of being oppressive or marginalizing minorities & elicited reactions from students who demanded the staff member resign, would threaten them on social media platforms & private email & conduct violent protests outside their private homes.

  • Campus protests involving extreme right & extreme left political groups began resulting in massive vandalism, hostage taking of staff at schools, assaults, harassments & the well known death of Heather Heyer, being hit my a car driven by a Neo-Nazi into a crowd of peaceful protestors.

  • Learning material that some students found 'uncomfortable' was argued to be interfering with students ability to function & making them 'feel unsafe.' Words are argued to be a potential 'form of violence.'

These young adults were becoming physically violent & vicious the same time claiming that verbal & written material was causing them harm & qualified as a form of violence. They wanted to 'feel safe' & were willing to make others 'unsafe' to make their point. These ideologies have bled out into mainstream culture with schools, workplaces, public places & online culture demanding that rules, regulations & social conduct adhere to a highly sensitive, tip-toing on eggs shells, bubble-wrapped approach to, well....everything.

In 2015, after watching the rise of this 'triggered' culture in the GenZ population entering university, Jon Haidt (a social psychologist) & Greg Lukianoff (a First Amendment Lawyer, head of FIRE a group dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech & academic freedom on college campuses) got together & released an article in The Atlantic.

The article's title was later granted to this book.

It was simply exploring the potential reasons why this 'safety' obsessed culture was developing & suggestions on how parents & teachers could help young people to engage in better mental health habits. Counter to their expectation for backlash & criticism, there was quite a bit of support from many significant sources, including President Obama referencing the article in one of his public speeches.

But the worst was yet to come. This radical GenZ culture shock was only beginning as the follow events were already brewing. From 2015-2017 we saw the rise of Black Lives Matter, Trump's shocking election to Presidency, multiple mass shootings in the US, the #MeToo movement, video captured police murders of unarmed black men & the previously mentioned campus protests that would turn violent & destructive.

So for this book, the authors have taken a deeper dive into the origins of the problems that have produced our "coddled" youth, listing 3 Great Untruths that have emerged in parenting. They then showcase many of the outcomes in postsecondary institutions that have supported, encouraged & further mutated these ideologies into witch hunts, moral panic, increased depression/anxiety & an addiction to 'safetyism.' Then they uncover 6 major contributing threads that have lead to the cluster-f*ck of a knot that are the problems we are finding today in the highly fragile young adult generation that seems completely unprepared to work, help, contribute, improve or protect our Western civilization.

The 3 Great Untruths they use to explain where parenting methodologies went wrong with this generation is brilliant.

  1. Fragility; What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Weaker - if you're uncomfortable or it feels unsafe, stop. Tell an adult. Ask for help. Children are born & humans are created to be insanely adaptive. We are designed to be 'antifragile.' The GenZ have been raised with obsessive safetyism, seeking authorities to manage conflict & impose protective regulations that go far beyond civil liberties & freedom for others. The age of independence, maturity, rights of passage have extended far beyond where they used to be. Both real & imagined threats have been muzzled so everyone can 'feel' comfortable & safe. Young people have been deprived of challenge, making them more fragile than ever.

  2. A lways Trust Your Feelings - the authors points out how this approach gets us into massive trouble. It has massively increased the volume of 'offence' taken in unnecessary situations. The term 'microaggressions' was not only coined, but stretched to include 'perceived & unintended' offences. Emotional reasoning is a dangerous path causing us to take our interpretations as absolute truth. Not having the perspective development to consider that how you see things...might be incorrect, can be dangerous.

  3. Us Vs. Them; Life is a Battle Between Good & Evil - the binary thinking that anyone who doesn't agree with you is against you. When we look at minorities, marginalized populations, privilege, equity vs equality, patriarchy & feminism, left vs right, things get pretty intense & heated. The polarization gets so loud that our shared qualities as humans get left behind - and it's deadly. The focus on 'how are we different' becomes toxic & divisive. Amplifying tribal thinking can lean too hard on who we are cutting out, when it needs to be used to call people in.

The final section of the book has a great explanation of the new obsession for what we have been labeling 'social justice.' They discuss procedural justice & distributive justice - which are the original forms of justice social scientists have identified in human recognition.

They offer methods for creating wiser kids, wiser universities & wiser societies.

Their major contribution is encouraging Cognitive Behavior Therapy methods. But don't be worried that we all need to find a therapist. CBT is something you can easily do on your own, on a daily basis or apply to on the spot situational struggles. It's a method of learning how to have developmental conversations with yourself to enhance your resiliency response to difficult situations. They offer a step by step guide on how to do it, as well as multiple books that are easily available in any public library.

This book is they tip of the iceberg in my opinion & selectively focuses on the awful, violent, deadly impacts that this generation & culture has had on university campuses. It was first published in 2019, before Covid. This event made much of the above issues far worse due to many of them coming from places of anxiety & depression which were amplified in the pandemic.

A highly recommended read & a well researched, well presented, in-depth look at the 3 major factors creating the lack of resilience in today's young adults; with a solid direction on how to encourage the snuffing out of what has lead us here.


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Julia is a Holistic Health Consultant, holding a Double Diploma in Community Support & Addictions Work, is a Certified Transformation Specialist, Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach & a Lvl 2 Reiki Practitioner. She specializes in Trauma Informed Practice & Resiliency Coaching and Holistic Pregnancy & Postpartum Health Coaching. 

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