My husband, Paul, and I host a weekly reading group. We read one book in the fall, another in the spring. This past spring we read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind which, week after week, generated the best discussions we’ve had to date.
If you haven’t yet read the book, here’s a spoiler alert. I’m about to quote the last two paragraphs from the last chapter. I’ve reread these tonight to help overcome the fatigue that ensues by being surrounded with people caught in the throes of moral outrage. And it seems there are a lot of these sort about of late. With a little review of Haidt’s work, I am reminded not only to be patient with others, but also to wiggle my rusty halo from the divets it has impressed in my swelled head where I can give it an honest inspection. Moral condemnation of moral outrage, too, is a judgment seated in my own feelings of ‘goodness and rightness’. I, with the plank in my eye, am no better.
[The Righteous Mind] explained why people are divided by politics and religion. The answer is not, as Manicheans would have to, because some people are good and others are evil. Instead, the explanation is that our minds were designed for groupish righteousness. We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning. This makes it difficult — but not impossible — to connect with those who live in other matrices, which are often built on different configurations of the available moral foundations [care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity].
So the next time you find yourself seated beside someone from another matrix, give it a try. Don’t just jump right in. Don’t bring up morality until you’ve found a few points of commonality or in some other way established a bit of trust. And when you do bring up issues of morality, try to start with some praise, or with sincere expression of interest.
We’re all stuck here for a while, so let’s try to work it out.
Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind. Allen Lane: New York. 2012. Conclusion, pp 317-318.
Worth 18.5 minutes of your time is Jonathan Haidt’s Ted Talk (2008), The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives.
You’re sure to find copies of The Righteous Mind in second hand stores and, being a popular book, there are plenty of places to buy your own new copy.
It’s too late. I’ve already introduced a puppy-and-kitten photo. Now I’m going to shamelessly add two more!