If their intent is to foster anger and conflict, college administrators are doing an excellent job. But the rise of safe spaces hasn’t proven so safe for students, speakers, and professors who question the progressive orthodoxy of today’s academy. In many university settings today, students are encouraged to assume the worst of others, to assume they and their friends are fighting evil on behalf of good, and to assume they cannot withstand criticism or challenge from ideas they don’t like. That’s a recipe for endless quarrels.
But it’s not just anger and conflict we see in these settings. It’s also rising rates of anxiety and depression among students. And no wonder. In a new book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Jonathan Haidt and co-author Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education argue that campus leaders have promoted three great untruths:
- 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.
Haidt, a previous guest on The Gospel Coalition Podcast for his superb book The Righteous Mind, argues that we’re facing some longstanding problems with a new twist. He and Lukianoff write, “What is new today is the premise that students are fragile. Even those who are not fragile themselves often believe that others are in danger and therefore need protection.”
Haidt is the Thomas Cooley professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He’s also the author of The Happiness Hypothesis, which I recommend. To learn more about Haidt’s work, check out ‘An Unlikely Ally’: What a Secular Atheist Is Teaching Christian Leaders, a profile by TGC senior writer Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra.