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Good intentions and bad ideas fail a generation

By Ashley Humphrey - posted Tuesday, 25 August 2020

In 2015, lawyer Greg Lukianoff and renowned social psychologist Jonathan Haidt published an essay in the Atlantic Magazine, titled: The Coddlingof the American Mind. Within it, the authors discussthe unique social and political backdrop that young American college students had found themselves in halfway through the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Specifically, they exploredthe recent upsurge in 'call out culture', and the increasing propensity of University students demanding protection from words and ideas deemed to be offensive and in turn damaging to their emotional wellbeing.

Highly critical of this movement, the authors went on to state why this shift is 'disastrous' for education, political debate and paradoxically even young people's emotional health.


At the time the article was the topic of much discussion, and it was this subsequent success that led the authors to develop this thesis into a book, adding to the article's initial title the provocative by-line: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure.

Within what they label a highly divisive modern America, littered with traits of political polarisation and overt 'safetyism' (the notion of eradicating risk and potential discomfort from people's lives), Lukianoff and Haidt identify three 'Great Untruths' deeply effecting the lives of Generation Z (those born after 1994) Americans. These are:

1) 'The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Weaker';

2) 'The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings';

3) 'The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Bad People'.

These untruths, they argue, have steadily increased in prominence in both educational and parenting contexts over the previous few decades, leading to Generation Z (or I-Gen as they are otherwise referred) to have value sets and worldviews highly led by such ideas.


Using the case study of American universities as well as the students that occupy them, the authors proceed to document evidence showing a range of issues associated with these philosophies within modern universities, as well as throughout broader society. Specifically, they refer to factors such as trigger warnings, safe spaces, micro-aggressions, call-out culture, and identity politics, as processes that had largely initial positive intents, and yet have manifested into concepts with damaging consequences.

The authors draw on a range of social research tosuggest these issues to be increasingly influential in American society, whilst also highly interconnected to broader social shifts that have emerged over the past few decades.

Lukianoff and Haidt for instance point out that political polarisation on college campuses unsurprisingly reflects political polarisation in the United States more generally. They note that this polarisation informs and reinforces increasing self-segregation: people living in communities of the like-minded, with fewer interactions with those of different views.

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About the Author

Ashley Humphrey is a research psychologist and lecturer at Federation University, as well as CEO of the JET Network, an organisation that delivers seminars addressing the topic of values and mental health to thousands of young people every year.

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