Coddling Of The American Mind: How Good Intentions And Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation For Failure

From 2010-2015, while leading a college ministry on the campus of LSU, our team observed a significant change in how college students interacted with viewpoints different than their own. We watched students go from interested to apathetic to hostile towards differing opinions.  Coddling of the American Mind not only identifies this troubling trend, but provides great insight on what caused this shift and how we should respond. This book is extremely helpful to not just understand our college campuses, but our society. Lukianoff and Haidt address issues like racism, event disinvites, depression, and anxiety. They also show how three big ideas had good intentions, but are ultimately hurting the individuals that embrace them and impacting society on a mass scale.

3 Quotes I Loved

“A culture that allows the concept of “safety” to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy (p.29).”


“Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think (p.50).”


“There is a principle in philosophy and rhetoric called the ‘principle of charity,’ which says that one should interpret other people’s statements in their best, most reasonable form, not in the worst or most offensive way possible (p.55).”

2 Ideas I Am Still Thinking About

Culture of Safetyism: In recent years, there has been an uprising belief that Lukainoff and Haidt call the “Culture of Safetyism.” This belief is most evident on college campuses when the iGen generation arrived in 2013. This view believes three myths:

  • Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. 
  • Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings
  • Us vs. Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people. 

Our Mind’s Antifragile Nature: In his book, The Black Swan, Nassim Talib coins the term, antifragile. If something fragile breaks under pressure, antifragile is something that strengthens under pressure. Consider your muscular system. How effective would a gym be without weights? It would be useless because you removed the primary tool that builds strength. Or consider your immune system. If you already had chicken pox once, why can you have confidence that you will most likely not have it again? Because your immune system has grown immune to the infection. Both your muscles and your immune system strengthen through applied pressure. The more that you shock the system, the stronger they become. 
Lukainoff and Haidt use this concept to explain the importance of emotionally and ideologically being stressed so that we may grow. They identify how the concept of safety has crept from physical danger to emotional discomfort. People’s primary pursuit is no longer to be strong mentally and emotionally, but to not be challenged. This mentality has led to individuals avoiding the thing that helps he or she grow. 

1 Action Step That I Am Taking

Minimizing My Confirmation Bias: Lukainoff and Haidt explain the importance of viewpoint diversity. To some extent, every person has confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search vigorously for evidence that confirms what one already believes. It is important that we take intentional steps to expose ourselves to other ideas and minimize our bias. By listening to different perspectives, our personal stances grow stronger, not weaker.
For me personally, I am diversifying from whom I learn. In a post last week, I gave tips for how I am reading broadly, but applying specifically. Also, I use FaceTime bi-weekly to connect with leaders (many outside my discipline and my “tribe”) across the nation to ask questions and learn. And lastly, I am trying to figure out how to fight against internet algorithms that support my confirmation biases. I haven’t figured that last one out yet, but it is something that I am considering. 

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