In this episode John and Gregg discuss the focus article of the September 2015 edtion of The Atlantic magazine: “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.
Gregg wonders about the hyper-sensitivity that seems to be dictating how we are (or better, how are not) to interact with each others. Particularly, the article points to the troubling reality that students’ emotional responses to a topic seem increasingly to be more important than the truthfulness, importance, or validity of the topic itself.
Two terms have become somewhat synonymous with phenomenon. First, “microagressions” are small acts or word choices that on the surface appear harmless but are thought of as a kind of “violence,” such as asking a person of Asian descent where they were born. Second, “trigger warnings” are alerts that professors are expected to issue regarding course content that may offend students or even “trigger” past trauma, such as warning that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby includes misogynistic content.
The authors conclude that universities are to be places that aim for—and are oriented toward—truth, and then finish the article with a list of “common cognitive distortions,” or ways that people engage with the world from an overly subjective view point.
Gregg likens this heightened sensitivity to our emotional responses to an issue and / or its presentation (rather than to its validity, importance, or even truthfulness) to a major theme prevalent at Swiss L’Abri during his 6+ month stay in 2014. Interestingly, the notion that many Christian students seemed to cherish was that discussion and / or criticism never validated hurting someone’s feelings. In other words, the truthfulness of an idea or perspective seemed to take second place to considerations of how such information might impact someone.
John, however, thinks that this seems like a tough matter to decide: it seems callous and arrogant to push someone who has undergone something traumatic to ignore or “get over” their past in order to be able to engage with triggering material. Gregg agrees, and yet explains that in his own case there were existing safety valves in the university and students already know their pressure points and so mostly need to be making prudent choices according to their existing understanding.
John agrees, and appreciates the authors’ comments that this current orientation within universities may in fact prepare students poorly for the work world or for further studies, because students are unprepared for critical engagement / opposition to their ideas and ways of thinking.