Category Archives: evolving

Religious Idols

One of my grandchildren asked me with horror, “Are you religious?!” She said the word “religious” like someone might say the word “pervert.” It broke my heart, but I understand it. Jesus was crucified by the “religious” leaders and their blind followers in his inherited religion.
Christians, we are doing it again. We have made Idols of our religions and in the process are crucifying again the one Albert Einstein described this way: “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene….Jesus is too colossal for the pen of the phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot….No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates with every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance is the impression which we receive from a account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus….No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some of them have been said before, no one has expressed them as divinely as he.” *1
In another quote Einstein says, “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.” *2
If our “religion” is focused on form, on the power of a hierarchy, on a claim that any one narrow denominational tradition is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we are idol worshipers.
Christianity is about the Love of God for humanity fleshed out in Jesus. God is Love and God fleshed out that Love for humanity in a human, who as a human grew in truth and holiness……to show us that we also can grow and change through experiencing the Love of God. Jesus, in his humanity, first thought God belonged only to his own faith tradition and that his life of ministry was just for them. As a human he was heartbroken, even weeping, when he realized that their religious idols were closing their hearts to him and the Love of God , the God that loves us at our worst and helps us still grow at our best, because we are unfinished even then. Jesus, as a man, finally recognized, that a God worth calling a God, loves all His creatures and creation. This is the “Way” of Jesus.
Christians, we are missing the point of Christianity. It’s a personal relationship first, not congregational or dogmatic. It’s not a spiritual country club or an insurance policy. And it’s not about being finished in just one moment of choice, but about an ongoing transformation empowered by the Love of God and being shown the way to a lifetime of growth in truth and holiness by the life and death of Jesus. Look closer at the actual growth process of Jesus. Recognize the huge leaps he took from tribal religion to a God of Love for all when he was challenged by the human suffering of a hated Roman conqueror, an unclean bleeding woman, and even Samaritan heretics, all of whom had no religious credentials.
Christians, we are being called to let go of our need for religious idols and to trust in a God of Love, who can both nurture and prune us into people who can grow in Love for all humanity as Jesus did.

*1 (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein- A Life /John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996,/ pp277-278)
*2 (“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)

God and the Whiners

An imaginary story of God’s conversations with his best bud, Adam, and then more of God hanging out with various generations of Adam’s descendants through the ages. Adam is sitting around with God admiring God’s handiwork. Adam: Wow, God, this is a nice job you’ve done. Particularly this sex thing. That’s great. Thanks for thinking of it! God: Well, there’s another side to it. Sex creates new life, so you can fill the earth with people who will be my partners in creation Adam: Gosh, that will take a lot of women to do that. I better find me some more wives. God: And you better collect a lot more goats and sheep to feed all those wives and children. Generations later: Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem, we can’t keep dragging all these wives and children around with droughts everywhere. God: From now on just choose one wife, find water, and till the land. A later Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem. We’re getting a lot of cast off older wives who are starving. God: In this day, men must take responsibility for women and children. You must no longer cast off wives for new wives. Choose carefully, because you are stuck with the first one. Another Generation whiners : God, we are running out of good arable land and it’s causing constant wars. God: Okay, you can slow down on the procreating. Whiner: But, God, we men must work hard all day and come home to whining wives and children. Surely, you aren’t telling us to give up our one delight? God: I gave you a brain. Figure it out. And start taking one day in seven just for being thankful. I’m also tired of all the whining. New Descendant: God, women are getting pushy. When we go to war, they have to take over at home. When we come home they complain about the way we run things. Some even think they could run things better. Like maybe sitting around crying would solve the world’s problems! God: Well, it might cut down on wars. New Descendant: But, it won’t put food on the table or send the kids to college. God: I’ve given women the luxury of developing the gift of relationships. Technology has freed humanity from the heavy lifting. Women are now needed in the workplace to bring their gifts of nurturing into the larger world. It’s time for nurture to be valued as much as achieving. It is time for power over to become power for others, for ALL others. I am doing a new thing. Modern Man: God, these days it’s hard to tell women and men apart. And men are loving men and women are loving women. What’s with that? God: I know you are not going to like this, but life just isn’t about differences. In My world there is no male or female, no slave or master, no favored people, no favored religion, no favored nation. Life is about learning to love. The most advanced school for that is marriage, a monogamous intimate committed relationship. Haven’t you caught on why I still make sex so enjoyable, even when I don’t need you to keep procreating to fill the earth? Sex has the power to draw people into a stable relationship that can free them to risk being vulnerable in loving. It’s the appetizer, not the main course. Modern Man: God, this Women working thing is really a bummer. Now they expect us to take care of the kids ad do chores at home. God: Shared responsibility for both survival and nurture can bring balance to relationships and society. Dependency and need are not love. Neither is control. I created human beings with the capacity to love one another as I love you. My love is the healing, nurturing, challenging, life changing, sacrificial love that does not have limits or borders. I fleshed it out for you in Jesus. Modern Man: Well, Jesus wasn’t married. God: It is time for humanity to grow up. You keep missing the point. The greed that is destroying the world will lose its power when humanity recognizes that my love is for all. No exceptions. And that you are called to be the channels of my love for the world. God: Hear my plea! I am asking you to accept my love and let it fill you until the joy of being loved overflows to all those you encounter without being blocked by judgement or fear.

The Whiners

An imaginary story of God’s conversations with his best bud, Adam, and then more of God hanging out with various generations of Adam’s descendants through the ages.
Adam is sitting around with God admiring God’s handiwork.
Adam: Wow, God, this is a nice job you’ve done. Particularly this sex thing. That’s great. Thanks for thinking of it!                                                                                                                                      God: Well, there’s another side to it. Sex creates new life, so you can fill the earth with people who will be my partners in creation                                                                                                          Adam: Gosh, that will take a lot of women to do that. I better find me some more wives.                                                                                                                                                                            God: And you better collect a lot more goats and sheep to feed all those wives and children.
Generations later:
Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem, we can’t keep dragging all these wives and children around with droughts everywhere.                                                                                                              God: From now on just choose one wife, find water, and till the land.
A later Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem. We’re getting a lot of cast off older wives who are starving.                                                                                                                                              God: In this day, men must take responsibility for women and children. You must no longer cast off wives for new wives. Choose carefully, because you are stuck with the first one
Another Generation whines : God, we are running out of good arable land .and it’s causing constant wars.                                                                                                                                              God: Okay, you can slow down on the procreating.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Whiner: But, God, we men must work hard all day and come home to whining wives and children. Surely, you aren’t telling us to give up our one delight?                                                                    God: I gave you a brain. Figure it out. And start taking one day in seven just for being thankful. I’m also tired of all the whining.
New Descendant: God, women are getting pushy. When we go to war, they have to take over at home. When we come home they complain about the way we run things. Some even think they could run things better. Like maybe sitting around crying would solve the world’s problems!                                                                                                                                                                        God: Well, it might cut down on wars.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        New Descendant: But, it won’t put food on the table or send the kids to college                                                                                                                                                                                      God: I’ve given women the luxury of developing the gift of relationships. Technology has freed humanity from the heavy lifting. Women are now needed in the workplace to bring their gifts of nurturing into the larger world. It’s time for nurture to be valued as much as achieving. It is time for power over to become power for others, for ALL others. I am doing a new thing.
Modern Man: God, these days it’s hard to tell women and men apart. And men are loving men and women are loving women. What’s with that?                                                                                  God: I know you are not going to like this, but life just isn’t about differences. In My world there is no male or female, no slave or master, no favored people, no favored religion, no favored nation. Life is about learning to love. The most advanced school for that is marriage, a monogamous intimate committed relationship. Haven’t you caught on why I still make sex so enjoyable, even when I don’t need you to keep procreating to fill the earth? Sex has the power to draw people into a stable relationship that can free them to risk being vulnerable in loving. It’s the appetizer, not the main course.
Modern Man: God, this Women working thing is really a bummer. Now they expect us to take care of the kids and even do chores at home.                                                                                          God: Shared responsibility for both survival and nurture can bring balance to relationships and society. Dependency and need are not love. Neither is control. I created human beings with the capacity to love one another as I love you. My love is the healing, nurturing, challenging, life changing, sacrificial love that does not have limits or borders. I fleshed it out for you in Jesus.                Modern Man: Well, Jesus wasn’t married.
God: It is time for humanity to grow up. You keep missing the point. The greed that is destroying the world will lose its power when humanity recognizes that my love is for all. No exceptions. And that you are called to be the channels of my love for the world.
God: Hear my plea! I am asking you to accept my love and let it fill you until the joy of being loved overflows to all those you encounter without being blocked by judgement or fear.

Deleted

 

I Am Not You

The first thing you should know about me is that I am not you. A lot more will make sense after that. (Melissa Skidmore)

A scripture that has echoed through my mind over the years is the one about getting the log out of our own eyes, instead of judging others. The problem with that is that the log in our eyes keeps us from seeing ourselves. We ALL have blind spots when it comes to seeing our whole selves.

Years ago I began to work with a personality indicator called the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator ( MBTI.)  It was spooky to take it and then read the description of my way of being in the world. How could anyone know those things!!

The MBTI helped me become more aware not only that we come into the world with very different ways of being, seeing, understanding, valuing and responding, but that the world needs all of these diverse ways of being.  It also needs us to become aware not only of our gifts, but of our blind spots. That’s the only way every ones’ gifts can be valued and work together for good.

The MBTI years ago when I studied and taught it, focused on affirming our gifts. So kind of naturally many of us just focused with relief on our own gifts, not realizing the importance of “gifts differing.” And not using the knowledge to rid ourselves of our blind spots.  Belatedly, I recognized that there’s a built in pattern of growth in us where we become more receptive to the gifts we did not have and usually did not value equally to our own natural ones.

There’s a catch to this. To develop in the area opposite to our strongest gift or way of being in the world requires dying temporarily to our own way of being and seeing.  It’s a dying to self. Technically, the MBTI doesn’t make any religious claims or statements. But believe me, this dying to our most valued gift is a real part of becoming whole, of becoming the best person we have the potential to be.

Unfortunately, dying to our “selves” is never easy or comfortable. By my age, I have seen creative people bog down in misery when their gifts seem to have dried up. I have myself panicked during a time when the Scriptures no longer spoke to me. I have heard others panic when ritual or their life long way of praying no longer works for them. But, I have also seen accountants become “creative” in good ways, artists learn to keep accounts, and engineers open their eyes and hearts to the mystical.

What I have witnessed and experienced convinces me that the universe is designed for opportunities and challenges to come our way at a time in our life when we are called to die to our strongest gift and become not only more balanced and whole, but more humble, and thus more understanding of those “others” that we have judged harshly most of our life.

What I found through sixty years of living with a man who was totally different in every area of being from me, is that only by becoming free to understand and value opposite ways of seeing and being in the world do we become free to truly and humbly love.

Recently I discovered that in the twenty years since I worked with it, the MBTI has been further developed in ways that help this process. It begins by helping us become aware of and accepting of our way of being in the world.  Then, it can also help us accept not only that our way is a gift to the world, but that it isn’t enough.  We then can begin to see how this dying to self can free us to become whole or “holy” and better able to understand and truly value both ourselves and those who are very different from us.  It isn’t either/or.  And no way is better, because no way is whole without the others.

Many years ago I was taking a turn preaching to a sizable group of Directors of Religious Education from very diverse denominations at a training week for DRE’s. I was going to use Paul’s scriptures on the Body of Christ and how all of the parts were equally important. As I was reflecting on this scripture, suddenly in my mind’s eye I saw a figure coming toward me.  It was coming very slowly and jerkily, because the legs were clumsily, tripping over each other and the arms were flying in different directions and the head twisting back and forth.  My immediate response was horror. “This is what we have done to the Body of Christ!”  And I cried out, “Lord, what can I do?” And into my mind, clear as a warning bell I heard, “Admit what you can’t do.”   As I have grappled with many aspects of this challenge over the years, two things have become clear to me,  One: The world needs all of us, different political thinking, different religious understandings, different cultures’ values, gender traits, racial strengths, talents, skills, on and on and on.  And  Two:  Only the grace of each of us truly knowing ourselves and knowing with heart and mind that we are loved as we are by God, can we become humble enough to love those very different others, just as we are loved.  And that is the only way we can ever live in peace. We need all of us.

The MBTI isn’t gospel.  But it can be an amazingly helpful tool for knowing ourselves better, and coming to value ourselves in a way that allows us to equally value others who seem completely different from us.

There’s a site on line called “16personalities.com” that offers greater understanding of the going with the flow of letting go and developing in new areas until the day we die. I am finding it both challenging and helpful in learning to let scary changes open my eyes to opportunities in my new life at eighty-two as a widow.

What the Heck is Grace?

Repentance is now considered a negative word. It implies sin, guilt and shame to the modern mind. Yet, the truth of the biblical quote, “All fall short of the glory of God” (which is perfect love) is pretty obvious.

The problem seems to me that somewhere along the way, we decided that seven was old enough to recognize right from wrong and twenty-one was old enough to take responsibility for our choices.  End of story.  The reality that we not only can grow in our understanding of and capability to love ( of morality), but were designed to do this at least to the day we die, got lost in the shuffle between Adam and Eve and their apple of damnation and Jesus Christ and the cross of salvation.

What if we use the word “unfinished” to describe our falling short?  What if we use the word “growth” for the change implied by the word “repentance.”  And then recognize that grace is simply “unconditional love ” in many different guises. And that is the fertilizer, the good soil, that enables growth and change.

Important note:  Love does not protect us from the pain of natural consequences from our imperfect human choices.  But love/grace stays with us through the whole learning process and has the power to free us to change when we recognize our need for it.

What percentage of the world’s population experiences perfect love from birth to seven?  More, probably, than between seven and twenty-one. But where in the world do children experience only that kind of love?  In an imperfect world of disease, hunger, greed, war, and TV is it even possible to protect children from knowledge of the fear, pain, and hunger in the world?

Even in a loving family, in affluent circumstances, traumas can still happen at critical stages of a child’s development.  I knew a family who had several children and when the youngest  was a toddler, the mother stayed with the oldest who had to be in the hospital for a week. After they returned, the youngest would have a panic attack if the mother even went out the front door and could no longer go to sleep except in bed with the parents.  Up until a certain age, a child experiences “out of sight” as “gone forever.”   By school age, the child seemed to outgrow the fears, but years later, in retrospect, the mother recognized that a profound fear of abandonment has been a strong influence even into adulthood.

We probably all experience the crippling effects of forgotten, even innocently caused traumas, unaware of how they influence our responses and choices in adulthood.  The key to freedom is recognizing them, feeling sorrow for how they have wounded us and caused us to misuse others, and then by taking responsibility for seeking healing.  Recognition is the beginning of the process.  Sometimes awareness alone can free us to break a pattern of response.  Other times, it takes time and we can only replace the destructive response with a less harmful one, during the process.

We are terribly vulnerable human beings in a scary and confusing world in a humongous unknown universe.  Both, addictions to pleasures and to behaviors that give us the delusion that we are in control, dull the pain of awareness of our human vulnerability.   I personally am not into housekeeping.  Dust reappears the next day; no feeling of control there.  But sorting and organizing lasts a lot longer and is much more satisfying. But sorry you will be, if you come along and disturb my order.  And when dealing with painful realities in the middle of the night, but too tired to organize anything, I’ve been known to stand at the kitchen counter and eat half of a peach pie.  These are not terribly destructive painkillers, unless I use them to indefinitely avoid looking at what is the  root of my particular pain at that time.

I’ve never known anyone that thought this life is heaven.  Though there have been times I thought it might be hell.  I am definitely no longer a Pollyanna, who saw only the good, because I felt too fragile to deal with the pain of life.  Nor am I my midlife self that became a cynic, who expected and tried to prepare for the worst.  With grace, I’ve become able to see both in each day; to experience the deep sorrow of loss and the joy of beauty all around me at almost anytime.

When we believe we are loved at our worst and still unfinished at our best,  most days we are able to try to be open to how our lives are challenging us to grow. Sometimes, like Peter Pan, my theme song is “I Won’t Grow Up!”  But then I remember that life does not give up challenging us, which means I’m just dragging out the process.

We are all a work in progress.  Awareness is the key to progress. And that comes in different ways: discomfort within,  overloaded responses to people and events, even just something we seem to suddenly read or hear all around us.  We will be able to perceive the cues in different ways through different stages of our own life.   When I got brave enough to make the leap from agnosticism to faith in grace, I could suddenly make sense of the scripture in spite of all its anomalies.  But I met many life long Christians that admitted sadly that they did not really find meaning there.  Then later in life, they suddenly found great joy in it.  I had loved the Scripture from my early thirties, but during my fifties and sixties it simply became like reading the back of cereal boxes.  We all go through stages, but they differ in timing because of our various personalities. So, don’t assume because you have never enjoyed or understood something, that you never will.  Like it or not, we grow and change with both losses and gains during the process.

All of this can be seen as psychological or spiritual or both.  Mostly, it’s just the way life is, but how we perceive it can make a huge difference in becoming the people in process that we were created to be.

 

 

Unfinished

I’ve never freely chosen to hang out with people who felt compelled to tell me unpleasant realities about myself. In the last twenty years or so I’ve finally come to grips with the fact (i.e. unpleasant reality) that it’s my problem. Reality just is. And my need to remain delusional is not other people’s problem.
I remember when taking a battery of psychological tests as preparation for ministry, they pointed out that one of my main traits that might limit my effectiveness was that I was over sensitive. My gut level, completely serious response was, “Well if you know I’m oversensitive, why would you hurt my feelings by telling me that?”
It’s like I expected the whole world to protect me from reality, even when facing it and changing might make me a much more effective person.
It has been a great relief to become able to accept that we all have flaws and even limits; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. And when I recognize one of them in my self (on my own or with “help”), sometimes I decide that it’s something I can’t change right now and that I and the rest of world will just have to live with that for the time being, but other times I recognize that it’s something that I want to change and now can, because of where I am in my journey.
So, the next time you get your feelings hurt, it might be interesting and even life changing to take responsibility for them and explore your choices in responding to the challenge of a possible, though uncomfortable, reality.

God Eyes

Yesterday, I realized that I don’t distinguish between God and Jesus except when I need to deal with the downside of my own or others’ humanity. Then I reflect on the Jesus of the Scriptures and see how open he was to growing in understanding and wholeness. When I see the overview of how drastically Jesus changed his ideas and choices through interaction with people different from him and then going apart to pray, reflect, and listen to what God was saying through those life challenges, it gives me hope for myself and humanity. And it motivates me to stop and listen to God through my everyday life experiences. If I struggle with the same thing over and over, obviously I am not paying attention. The rough spots, the challenges, unfamiliar ideas, the people that make me uncomfortable are God calling.
Sometimes, I just HATE knowing that!
And sometimes I even have to mentally put my fingers in my ears and sing to myself, “Jesus loves me…………..” until that assurance of love gives me the courage to recognize that when something about another person pushes my emotional buttons, it’s because of something related that I don’t want to know about myself.
On the positive side, I realize that I also have God eyes. I experience not only pleasure, but the sheer joy of seeing God in the beauty in nature, momentary kindness in people, laughter of children, and my own humor at my weirdness, silliness and even brokenness.
Wow! That has been such a life affirming and empowering gift.
I’m pretty sure those two different aspects of openness are wholeness.
And wholeness is the path of the journey to holiness.

Strangely, what triggered this awareness yesterday was a friend mentioning sadly that none of the Christmas cards she received had anything about Jesus on them. They had birds and animals and lovely landscapes, but no nativity scenes. I realized that I used to feel the same lack of spirituality when cards only had beautiful nature or just happy people on them, but now I feel God in all those things everyday, so I see God in pictures of them too.

And I am really beginning to see this as not only progress, but as what Jesus is all about. Jesus is our main clue to the immanence of God, not just God’s transcendence. Jesus gives us God eyes. God in the natural, God in the limited, God in human incompleteness. God in our funky little unfinished selves.

Rejoice and be glad in it! If God is in the beauty of the cardinal who pushes the little birds off the feeders, if God is in the beauty of the daffodil that goes through cycles of ugly withering and beautiful blooming, God is in us and our cycles of dying and becoming new.

Jesus loves us because he has God eyes too.

Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, guest on ON BEING with Host Krista Tippett

The Psychology of Self-Righteousness
“When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.” The surprising psychology behind morality is at the heart of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research. He explains “liberal” and “conservative” not narrowly or necessarily as political affiliations, but as personality types — ways of moving through the world. His self-described “conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular liberal instincts” have been challenged by his own studies.

On Being with Krista Tippett, HOST

GUEST: Jonathan Haidt the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

TRANSCRIPT
Jonathan Haidt: It’s as though these giant electromagnets got turned on in the ’60s, and they’ve been cranking up ever since, and anything that has the vaguest left-right charge gets pulled to one side. Everything gets purified. Psychologically, what we find empirically is that people who identify as conservative tend to like order and predictability, whereas people who identify as liberal, they like variety and diversity. I have one study where we have dots moving around on a screen. Conservatives like the images where the dots are moving around more in lockstep with each other. Liberals like it when it’s all chaotic and random.
Krista Tippett, host: The surprising psychology behind morality — this is at the heart of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research. “When it comes to moral judgments,” he says, “we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.” In his acclaimed book, The Righteous Mind, he examined the conundrum behind good people divided by religion and politics. Jonathan Haidt explains “liberal” and “conservative” not narrowly or necessarily as political affiliations, but as personality types, ways of moving through the world. And his own self-described “conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular-liberal instincts” have been challenged by his own studies.  Jonathan Haidt is professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. I interviewed him in 2014 at the invitation of a group called Encounter. It is interested in Jonathan Haidt’s research as it navigates an iconically entrenched, bitterly divisive moral conflict of our age, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. We gathered before an intimate group at the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan.
Ms. Tippett: It’s exciting to be talking about an important subject in an important place in a room surrounded by books. And actually, where I’d like to start is just with you, just a little bit about your background. And I’m curious, specifically, whether you would find traces or roots of not just your interest in morality, but in a sense, your passion for morality, in the religious or spiritual background of your childhood.
Mr. Haidt: Well, my religious and spiritual background is sort of stereotypical for my generation — born in 1963 to parents who were first generation. All four of my grandparents were born in Russia and Poland, came to New York, worked in the garment industry, loved Roosevelt, union organizers. My parents moved, raised me in Scarsdale, New York. I was very assimilated — I have a strong sense of being Jewish as my culture, but not as, really, as a religion. As a kid who always loved science, and when I first read the bible in college, the Old Testament, I was horrified when I read the whole thing. And so I went through the phase that many young scientific types go through. I’m the sort of person who would have been a New Atheist if I hadn’t taken a very different turn in my own research.
Ms. Tippett: So you studied philosophy in college, is that right? And then it seems to me that you made a move, a shift that our culture is actually making, which is that great questions, or this great inquiry about the human condition, which once was reserved for philosophers and theologians, has now moved onto frontiers where we are learning to understand our minds, and in understanding our minds, understanding ourselves in a whole new way.
Mr. Haidt: That’s right. That’s what most excites me, is, I think we’re all interested in our origins. Everybody’s interested in origin stories: Where do we come from? Why are we this way? And when I first read, actually, Richard Dawkins, when I first read The Selfish Gene, and I began to learn about evolution, I felt, “Oh my God, it all makes so much sense. This is why we are the way we are.”
And I remember when I was in London — in Westminster Abbey, I guess it was, wherever Darwin is buried, and in England, they have the graves right there in the church, and people walk over them. And I was like, “No! don’t walk on Darwin’s grave!” So I felt like — I felt as though studying the social sciences and evolution, I feel like we are really beginning to reconstruct our ancestor and origin story, and it’s very, very exciting. And I find it gives me a lot of compassion for us as a species, because a lot of people love to shake their heads and say, “Oh, my God, things are so terrible, and we’re such monsters.” But I have very, very low expectations. My standard is, we’re animals. We’re like chimpanzees that actually figured out how to get along amazingly well and not hurt each other, not hit each other. I mean it’s amazing how peaceful we are, actually.
Ms. Tippett: I mean I just think — just what you just said, I feel like we are — we’re coming to a place where we can have a vocabulary of considering ourselves as a species, which is kind of a new evolutionary phase. And having said that, that you started thinking about these things seriously with Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, the field you are part of — which is new, which has developed in your lifetime, in our lifetime — is positive psychology, the study of human flourishing, which it takes off into new directions from there.
Mr. Haidt: That’s right. So that would be, I guess — part of the story is, psychology has tended to be a very negative field, in that it’s especially focused on problems.
Ms. Tippett: Pathologies and neurosis.
Mr. Haidt: Pathologies, violence, drug addiction, racism, all those sorts of things. Those are, of course, extremely important to study. We’ve made a lot of progress on them. But in the 1990s, Martin Seligman, a psychologist at Penn, said, when he was president of the American Psychological Association, “Well, what about the positive side of life? Most people are doing pretty well. And when they go to the bookstore, all they have on offer are books by Deepak Chopra. So we should be having psychologists doing research on the positive side of life.” And I started doing research because I study morality and how it’s based on the emotions, so I’d been studying the emotions of disgust and anger and shame, and then I started to think, “Well, what’s the opposite of disgust?” And I started — what do you feel when you see somebody do something beautiful or uplifting? And it felt to me as though there’s such an emotion, but there wasn’t a word for it, at least not in the psychological language — I mean you can say “uplifted” or “touched” or “moved.”
And I came across a wonderful passage in Thomas Jefferson. I’d just arrived at the University of Virginia, and he is the — he’s everywhere. I felt like I worked for the man. It was wonderful. But he describes why it’s so important to read good fiction: because of the effect that beautiful deeds, beautifully explained, can have on you. He said, “Does it not elevate his sentiments, does it not dilate the breast and elevate the sentiment” — a sort of a feeling of opening — “as much as any example in real history can furnish?” And he talked about how it makes us more open, and then new things are possible.
Ms. Tippett: It seems like he almost had an intuition of what’s being learned in social psychology now, or that he had a wisdom.
Mr. Haidt: Jefferson was a fantastic — Jefferson and Ben Franklin. We had a few founders who were great psychologists.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah. So let’s just talk about your basic premises. So one of them, we kind of have had this illusion that we were primarily rational creatures. And your first premise would be that moral judgment is based mostly on intuitions, rather than conscious reasoning. I mean here is the one way you said this: “When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.”
Mr. Haidt: Exactly. And if you don’t believe that about yourself, just note how true it is of everybody else.
[laughter]
And then think, they think that of you.
Ms. Tippett: So a second premise is that there’s more to morality than harm and fairness. So explain what that means.
Mr. Haidt: So in psychology, pretty much everybody who studies morality is politically liberal.
Ms. Tippett: Really? Is that really true?
Mr. Haidt: Yeah. Yeah. I have found one social psychologist who’s a conservative. He’s a friend of mine. I’ve not found another. And that’s a whole separate discussion about the terrible things that happen — I mean we’re talking about polarization here — what happens when the academy itself becomes polarized, so that all the liberals are in the academy, all the conservatives are in think tanks in Washington.
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Mr. Haidt: So it really interferes with our ability to think and to study.
Ms. Tippett: But it makes for great cable television.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
Ms. Tippett: It produces the talking heads.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, that’s right, and no progress.
[laughter]
So the field — so when I entered the field in 1987, it was dominated by people who were pretty far left. And so morality was basically defined as altruism. And it was especially altruism towards poor victims. So ideally, helping poor kids in Africa, that is the best thing you could possibly do. So all the research was about compassion and about fairness and justice, and that’s it. And when I took a course in cultural psychology from a wonderful anthropologist named Alan Fiske, and we read all these books about these ethnographies of morality in other cultures — and people care a lot about food and food taboos and menstruating women and the body and all these things that I had read 15 years before in the Old Testament. And I realized: Oh, my God, almost every culture on earth has this very broad conception of morality, in which it’s not just about “Am I hurting you and treating you fairly?”
Ms. Tippett: Right, a whole array of things that are — that come under that category of “moral.”
Mr. Haidt: Exactly; issues of purity and authority and group loyalty. And the interesting puzzle, which is now being solved, is, how did the West get so weird? And by “weird” — I’m not using that as an insult. WEIRD stands for “western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.” When ever you have a society that has those five attributes, the moral domain shrinks down, individualism rises up, people get more analytical — there’s a massive set of changes that happen. And everybody in this room, I daresay, is, to some extent, WEIRD.
[laughter]
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] OK. A third premise is that morality “binds and blinds.”
Mr. Haidt: This is the one I’m most excited about. This is the one that I feel unlocks so many of our hardest problems, particularly the ones we’re here to talk about tonight. So if you go with me that morality is part of human nature, that it is something that evolved in us as our primate ancestors became cultural creatures that lived in larger groups, then these groups competed with each other, and the groups that were able to hang together and cooperate are the ones that succeeded and became our ancestors. So if you are with me that morality, just like the love of our children or the sense of humor or language, or all these things about us — if you’re with me on that, then you begin to see morality not just as “Am I nice to you?” You begin to see morality as this amazing ability that binds groups together in groups that are larger than kinship.
Probably none of you here are siblings, but you’re all — you all, we all have common concerns. You form organizations. We’re all members of dozens of organizations. We cooperate so brilliantly, and that’s because we have this moral psychology that binds us together. It’s most effective when we have a sacred value, something that we all worship or circle around. So it’s clearest in religions, where the sacred value is literally God or the Torah or whatever, but you’ll see it in any political group too. So on the left, nowadays, just in the last year or two, it’s become overwhelmingly marriage equality and rising income inequality. On the right, it’s long been “the family” and “America.”Ms. Tippett: Those are the things we define as moral issues, the primary moral issues.
Mr. Haidt:
That’s right. But keep your eye on the sacred values. That really helps you understand. And we’ll come back to that here, I’m sure.
Ms. Tippett: Talk about how you look at the collapse of, I think, civility, and inability to solve problems and to speak across difference, in terms of the science that you’re doing. One thing that you’ve talked about is the importance of disagreeing constructively. I don’t know, do you know — well, you say very interesting things, also, about how it is harder for liberals to understand conservatives, or that liberals need to try harder to understand conservatives than conservatives would have to try to understand liberals. And I think that’s probably a provocative statement, possibly, in this room.
Mr. Haidt: OK, maybe I’d better unpack that, yeah.
Ms. Tippett: So what do you mean by that? I mean what do you know that informs that statement?
Mr. Haidt: OK, so very brief background, so one of my main areas of research — my colleagues and I call it moral foundations theory — is about these different — almost like taste buds of the moral sense. So everybody values compassion and fairness, whether you’re liberal or conservative — everybody. But then there are these three others: loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and sanctity versus degradation. And what we find is that conservatives give relatively high marks to all five of those. They value all of those, whereas liberals reject those last three — “That’s, like, the foundations of racism and exclusiveness.” And “No,” they — “group loyalty? That’s terrible.” In other words, liberals build their moral matrix, their moral world, on these two foundations, primarily.
And in one study that I did with my former graduate student, Jesse Graham, we asked liberals and conservatives to fill out our main surveys, pretending to be the other, and also as themselves, for different people. What we found is that conservatives and moderates were very accurate at filling it out as though they were liberals. But liberals were not accurate filling it out as though they were conservatives, because they just couldn’t get their mind into the idea that authority is somehow related to morality; they think it’s just oppression. So that’s one reason why there’s a difficulty, an asymmetric difficulty.
The other reason is that the media tends to be liberal, as the academic world is, and Hollywood. So you cannot grow up in this country without being exposed to lots and lots of liberal ideas. But it wasn’t until I was about 40 that I happened to pull a book off a shelf that said “conservatism” on it, that I was ever exposed to conservative ideas. And I’m well educated. And I had never encountered conservative ideas. So, there’s a real asymmetry in access to the other side’s ideas.
Ms. Tippett: And you very much value the way conservatives — and I think this would be conservatives politically or religiously, conservative people and minds among us — in an important and necessary way remind us of the — what did you say? — the binding foundations of society. That’s important to you that liberals remember.
Mr. Haidt: That’s right. That was really the eye-opener for me. I was always very liberal growing up. I really hated Ronald Reagan, and my first political memory is having a poster of Richard Nixon, and my friends and I completely defaced it, and we thought it was so funny, because we hated him, in our seven-year-old minds. But in doing this research and coming to see that liberals and conservatives each have a piece of the puzzle — each are really perceptive about certain moral values, about the needs of what it takes to have a humane society, and if you let liberals run everything, they tend to burn up social capital, but conservatives tend to focus more on building up social structures that actually do allow us to flourish in some ways. You do need order. You do need some restrictions. You do need some boundaries.
Ms. Tippett: So in some ways, what you are learning could be experienced to be reductionist, right? I mean, it suggests that much of what we think we know and do, and the control we think that we have, and the rationality behind our behavior, is illusory. But I also very much hear you saying that this knowledge itself is a form of power, that we can know this and use that knowledge.
Mr. Haidt: Yes, that’s right. I love reductionism, in that you look at how — “Oh, my God, these things we do, you can explain them by biology and evolution” — that’s reductionism. But I always pair it with emergentism. We form these complex webs, and out of them emerge social institutions. Out of them emerges historical trends. So we are not prisoners of our genes or of our childhoods. The choices we make now will change what happens to us tomorrow. So I certainly want to pair that, the reductionism and the emergentism.
And at every point in history — every point in history is a crossroads. And we can point to people in recent history who blew it, who made bad decisions that made it even tougher for us now. But it’s never hopeless. So I do think that if we can all get a better grasp of this moral psychology, we can turn it to our advantage.
Ms. Tippett: And you are not a religious person, but you, as a social psychologist, very much value, see a value in religion.
Mr. Haidt: Absolutely.
Ms. Tippett: In society.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, and that makes me — not unique, there are other social scientists who do — but it makes me in the minority. And I was very — I used to be very hostile to religion. And then, in doing this research on moral psychology and coming to see conservative perspectives, and then looking at the social science evidence on the effects of religion, well, it’s pretty clear. I mean it’s a little mixed, there are some mixed findings. But the lit reviews generally find that religion in the United States — and it may not be true in other countries, but in the United States, where we have a competitive marketplace and religions compete for adherence — they’re really nice and warm and open, and they create moral communities that encourage people to not just focus on themselves.
And so a wonderful book, American Grace, by Putnam and Campbell, is the ultimate authority on this. What they find is that it doesn’t matter what religion you are, and it doesn’t matter what you believe: If you are part of a religious community, then on average, you’re a better citizen. You give more to charity. Religion does bring out the good in people. Now, secular people can be perfectly good too, but on average, they give less, and they give less of their time. So I’d like to think that I simply, as a secular atheist scientist, followed the evidence, and it showed me that I was wrong in thinking that religion was evil.
Ms. Tippett: And you also point out that when you talk about intuition, that our behavior is not primarily consciously driven. And that’s the same thing that Buddha said, and it’s the same thing that St. Paul said, and Moses and Ovid and all of these people. So it’s absolutely true that our traditions are repositories of moral thinking and moral grappling and have brought those things across time. It’s also true, and we certainly have this specter in the 21st century, that religious energies are at the center of a lot of the, well, morally justified violence, moral anguish. So how would you explain the fact that — this seeming contradiction that religion — that religions are carriers of morality and also that that those very same energies become most destructive?
Mr. Haidt: Well, if you think that morality is being nice and kind to people, well, then, yeah, boy, it sure looks like a paradox. But if you go with me that morality is these many things, and a lot of it is, “Are you a good group member, or are you pursuing your own interests?” — and those group interests often are about intergroup conflict — so if you think about religion as functioning to bind groups together, well then, it’s no paradox. A lot of that is nasty stuff.
Ms. Tippett: I mean here’s something from your writing that — it’s a very striking statement. “The myth of pure evil” — and again, our religions are a place we talk about good and evil — “the myth of pure evil is the ultimate self-serving bias, the ultimate form of naïve realism.” That’s a pretty strong statement.
Mr. Haidt: One thing that you find in most of the great wisdom traditions is the idea that reality as we see it is an illusion. It’s a veil, it blinds us, and enlightenment is taking down the veil, seeing things as they are, transcending dualities. And that, I think, is really crucial for thinking about civility, because that’s what happened to me in writing this book and in doing this research, is, I was a self-righteous, conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular liberal. And in doing this research over many years, and in forcing myself to watch FOX News as an anthropologist who just — “I’ve got to understand this stuff” — over time I realized, “Well, they’re not crazy. These ideas make sense. They see things I didn’t see.”
The feeling of losing my anger was thrilling. It was really freeing. When you get people to actually understand each other, and they let down their guard, and they learn something new, and they see humanity in someone that they disliked or hated or demonized before, that’s really thrilling. And that, I think, is one of the most important emotional tools we have to foster civility. Because once you get it started, it’s kind of addictive.
Ms. Tippett: You can listen again and share this conversation with Jonathan Haidt through our website, onbeing.org.
Coming up, where the rubber meets the road. We apply Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory to diverse reactions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I interviewed Jonathan Haidt at the invitation of a group called Encounter, which attempts to calm an iconically entrenched, bitterly divisive moral conflict of our age, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
Ms. Tippett: I think that when you talk about something like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, if you talk about the very emotional turmoil within the Jewish community, within the American Jewish community, just start there, where you’re dealing with a conflict, a crisis that goes back generations, spirals of violence, and where there’s this huge component of fear that is built into it — and among the other things we’re learning about our brains, it is that when we are fearful, it’s very hard to rise to — let’s just say, to make use of this kind of scientific knowledge that we’re getting about ourselves as social beings. That’s kind of where the rubber meets the road, which is too mild a—
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, so let’s start working on it. So I’m an Ivory Tower academic. I’ve only facilitated one meeting in my whole life of trying to get people together across the aisle.
Ms. Tippett: I’m glad you told us that. [laughs]
Mr. Haidt: But I will speculate, based on that — but from what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen, here are a few pointers. One is, if you accept what I was saying earlier about how our reasoning is driven by our intuitions, our gut feelings, our emotions, that’s just why you cannot reason somebody to — once there’s a conflict, you can’t use reason to change their mind. So don’t even try the direct route, which is, “Let’s just discuss it.”
Once you accept that, then you say, well, OK, what does change reasoning? And now relationships become absolutely crucial. This is why it’s so hard to influence people just by putting a message up into message space. And this is what all the — people who are always interested in the political messaging and crafting the message vehicle, they always come to me for advice on this issue, that issue. And I say: Stop focusing on the message vehicle. Think a lot more about the messenger, because if you have somebody who you wouldn’t expect to say something, or if you have an alliance of people — so think a lot more about the total situation. And you’re not going to change people’s mind just with reason alone, so bring in interesting people who would be what sometimes are called “unexpected validators,” for one thing.
Ms. Tippett: What do you mean, “unexpected validators”?
Mr. Haidt: For example, a lot of people talk to me about, say, global warming. And they’re always trying to craft the message: “Well, how can we use the message to appeal to their other — these conservative foundations and make those conservatives change their mind?” So I say things like, “Well, start by finding a military general who will talk about how this is gonna be a threat to America’s ability to project force around the world.” But the even more important principle is, build up the relationships between the people that you want to do the talking, because we engage in reasoning not to figure out the truth but for social purposes, to show our team that we’re good team players. So bring people together in a debate, people are actually not communicating with each other, they’re actually communicating with their other audiences.
Ms. Tippett: They’re just defining themselves, over against.
Mr. Haidt: Right. That’s right. But if you do the long, slow work of getting people to have something of a human relationship — and especially, sharing food is a very visceral, primal thing. Once you’ve eaten, shared food with a person, there’s a deep psychological system that means “We are like family.”
Ms. Tippett: You use some really helpful metaphors and analogies. You talk about the moral matrix. Give us that.
Mr. Haidt: OK, so yeah, that comes straight out of the movie The Matrix. The matrix is a consensual hallucination. And that’s kind of cool, and the internet and all that stuff, but it was just the perfect metaphor for the moral world that we live in. It defines what’s true and what’s not true. It is a closed epistemic world. What I mean by that is, it has within it everything it needs to prove itself, and it has within it defenses against any possible argument that could be thrown at it. It’s impossible to see the defects in your own moral matrix.
Ms. Tippett: So it becomes impossible to think beyond.
Mr. Haidt: Exactly, exactly. And that’s why foreign travel is so good, getting disoriented is so good, reading literature can be so good. So there are ways of it getting out of your moral matrix, but it’s hard, especially in the context of any sort of intergroup conflict. Then we’re just locked into it, and our goal is: Defend the matrix, defeat theirs.
Ms. Tippett: I think a question that gets raised in this country, and I imagine that it might be on people’s minds in this room right now, is that the people who most would benefit from those relationships or from stepping outside or seeing beyond their matrix, are precisely the ones who are not going to go on the trips to the West Bank, or whatever the other examples would be.
Now, I think that we in this culture — we tend to actually focus on the extreme poles and think that they are the ones who have to be convinced, and we always center the debates around them, and maybe that’s what we do wrong. Do we need those extremists?
Mr. Haidt: No, you don’t.
Ms. Tippett: Or do we start without them, and that’s fine?
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, so first, let me be clear that while each side can’t see the flaws in its own matrix, there is a symmetry here, and left and right are similar in some ways. But one of the clearest differences between left and right, psychologically, is that the left is generally universalist, almost to a fault, and the right is parochial, often to a fault. And what I mean by parochial isn’t just “narrow-minded and dumb.” What I mean is — so we have a survey at yourmorals.org where we ask, “How much do you care about or think about or value people in your community, people in your country, people in the world at large?” And OK, so conservatives value people in their nation and in their community much more than people in the world at large. And you might say, OK, well, that’s parochial. But what do liberals do? Liberals on our survey actually say they value people in the world at large more than people in their own country, more than people in their community. So liberals are so universalist, they often don’t really pay much attention to their own groups. As my mother said about my grandfather, who was a labor organizer, “He loved humanity so much that he didn’t really have much time to care for his family.”
Ms. Tippett: All right. So let’s open this up and see what’s on your minds.
Mr. Haidt: OK.
Audience Member 1: Jon, on this notion of your five factors that go into morality — and I believe it was fairness and compassion as being pretty much accepted across the spectrum as being moral values, and then you added others, like sacredness or purity or authority — I think of authority and respecting authority as more amoral. If the authority is Abraham Lincoln, I see that as moral. If the authority is Hitler or Stalin, I don’t. And so I’m sort of stuck with this notion of maybe a broader understanding of morality. If there is one position that is more right than another, how can we be open to respecting authority if our sense is that that authority is wrong?
Mr. Haidt: OK, so a way to think about this is — so I’m trying to be descriptive here. What is the morality that people around the world care about? And I was trying to step out of my own secular liberal morality. And if you think about the virtues as these excellences that we try to encourage in our children to prepare them for social interaction, and liberals and conservatives cultivate very different excellences. When I got to the University of Virginia, there were a number — a lot of the students were from southwest Virginia, and they would call me “sir,” and it was hard for them to call me by first name. And they — in seminar classes, it was clear they had concepts of backtalk, which, growing up Jewish American, there’s no such thing as backtalk. If your uncle says something stupid, you say — you don’t say it was stupid, but you say, “I totally disagree. That’s ridiculous.”
But many people think that a world in which children can say “shut up” to their parents or, at least, can take it or leave it or sue them or whatever they want — a lot of conservatives are horrified at the chaos, disorder, and disrespect in more liberal families.
There often is a need for some sort of order, especially if a group is gonna try to accomplish something. If a group’s gonna — so keep in mind, conservative virtues are effective at keeping the group together and making it effective. Liberal values are more effective at getting justice within the group. So I think that’s the key here.
Ms. Tippett: But I think the question is that sometimes order is Abraham Lincoln, and sometimes it’s Hitler. And are you saying, maybe again in the grand scheme of things, that in the context of the human enterprise, the human experiment, that value which carries a lot of good is sometimes going to result in a Hitler?
Mr. Haidt: Oh, I’m not saying people should be respectful of all authorities, nor am I saying that conservatives think people should respect all authorities. Let’s see. Where to go with this? I mean I think one thing that I noticed really on display in sort of extreme cases was Occupy Wall Street. So Occupy Wall Street was a very far left movement. And they were so far left that they were opposed to all forms of authority. Everybody was equal. And I went down there a few times, and I watched them think about things. And what I saw so turned me off.
I was very sympathetic to the movement at first. But they’re so egalitarian that they wouldn’t — couldn’t have any leaders. Everybody had a right to speak, equal to everyone else. At one point, there was a motion. They were trying to figure out what they stood for. And they, for months they couldn’t say what they stood for, and they were trying to draft a memo, and on one line was, “And we reject violence.” And somebody said, “Well, but there are some among us who don’t reject violence, and we don’t want to exclude them. We’re so inclusive. We want to include everybody.” And so that was one thing, was, the extreme egalitarianism and inclusiveness rendered them, I thought, unfit for modern American political life. So complete rejection of authority leads to chaos, it leads to ineffectiveness, and it ultimately leads to the group disappearing.
Mr. Haidt: I know this is the question period, but there’s a quote here, which is just so relevant, I hope I can read it. It’s from an article by Yossi Klein Halevi on Pesach Jews versus Purim Jews. He talks about there’s these two threads, these two strands among Jews — actually, this is more in Israel, but it’s here too. So he — I just love this, and it fits so well with Righteous Mind. He says, “Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two Biblical commands to remember. The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: Don’t be brutal. The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: Don’t be naïve.” “‘Passover Jews’ are motivated by empathy with the oppressed.” That’s this care and compassion foundation. “‘Purim Jews’ are motivated by alertness to threat.” That’s these group-binding virtues, where you have to have, if you’re going to be attacked from outside. “Both are essential.” So anything you can do to convey the sense that, yeah, both sides are right, both sides are wise to certain threats, conveying that both sides are right and linking them to both — both are Jews. So these are, I think, some of the steps that can at least create this greater sense of community and necessary purpose.
Ms. Tippett: There’s some place you talked about some work you’ve done with some of your students that — what did you say? That diversity was like cholesterol? That we need the good kind and the bad kind; we need all — we need difference. And it’s OK for all these — [laughs] I want to find it. You know what — you say it. It’s interesting.
Mr. Haidt: OK, so I grew up — I started at Yale in 1981, just as diversity was becoming a major, major watchword of the left. And my entire academic career, it’s all been about diversity: diversity this, diversity that. And what’s really meant by that is racial diversity, and then, secondarily, gender diversity. And claims are made for diversity, that it has all these benefits for thinking, it does all these great things. But at the same time, what I’ve observed in my academic career is, when I started school in the ’80s, there were a few conservatives on the faculty, and now there are almost none. So we’ve reached the state that George Will described. He said there’s a certain kind of liberal that wants diversity in everything except thought. And so we do need certain kinds of diversity, but the key to remember is that diversity by its very nature is divisive, and so what’s the function of your group? If your group needs cohesion, you don’t want diversity. If your group needs good, clear thinking, and you want people to challenge your prejudices, then you need it. So in the academic world, we need that kind of diversity, and we don’t have it. That was part of my point.
Ms. Tippett: How does that help you analyze what might be done?
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, so diversity is generally divisive, and it has to be managed. There is some interesting research showing that when you celebrate diversity and point it out, you split people, but if you drown it in a sea of commonality, then it’s not a problem. So anything you can do to emphasize how similar we all are, how much we have in common, is good. Anything you can do that celebrates — “Look at how different we are. Look at how diverse we are” — that tends to make it harder to have any group cohesion and trust.   What I’m saying is, start by addressing that. Start by building the sense of our community, how much we have in common, how there’ve always been these two sides. And Jews have to do both. Start by building all of that, and then you can address the harder policy issues.

Audience Member 2: So I actually just wanted to request your working definition of “conservative” and “liberal,” because I feel like I’ve been a little bit working backwards trying to figure out, by how you characterize them, what you basically mean when you say, for example, that conservatives are
Mr. Haidt: Psychologically, what we find empirically is that people who identify as conservative tend to like order and predictability. They are not attracted to change for the sake of change, whereas people who identify as liberal, they like variety and diversity. I have one study where we have dots moving around on a screen. Conservatives like the images where the dots are moving around more in lockstep with each other.
[laughter]
Liberals like it when it’s all chaotic and random. Liberals keep their rooms messier than conservatives. So these are deep, psychological differences. We eat different food. We eat at different restaurants. And this is part of the problem now, is that it’s become not just an ideological difference, it’s a real lifestyle difference.
Ms. Tippett: So I think that gets at part of the confusion, that it’s probably the simplest thing to associate “conservative” with Republican, and “liberal” with Democrat.
Mr. Haidt: In this country, now.
Ms. Tippett: In this country now, but you’re really talking as a social psychologist about “conservative” and “liberal” as two ways of being human.
Mr. Haidt: That’s right, these are psychological traits. That’s right. There are dimensions. So openness to experience is the main psychological trait that has been found to correlate with the left-right dimension. And so I would guess — I know nothing about the situation in Israel, but I would guess, when you go out to dinner in Jerusalem with people on the left versus the right, there will be a lot more sort of fusion restaurants and variety and diversity when you go out with people on the left than with people on the right.
Ms. Tippett: And that has something — it has to do with a lot of things, but it’s also related to this echo chamber problem, that it’s like what we’re hearing, and we’re never hearing the whole story or being able to internalize the whole story.
So that’s why you’re here tonight.
[laughter]
What do we do about these echo chambers? What does your science teach you?
Mr. Haidt: Oh, boy, what do we do about the echo chambers? That’s really hard. I mean it’s especially hard in this country, where the First Amendment means that government can’t…
Ms. Tippett: We’re all talking to people who are like us. And we’re living in neighborhoods, as you said, with people who are like us.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of sociology working against us here. Part of becoming more modern and wealthy and individualistic is that we make our life choices based on what we like, what appeals to us. So you don’t just stay where you were born, the way people used to more often. I mean there’s always been a lot of movement among humans, but nowadays, I mean when you look at people shopping for college or jobs: “Well, you know, Seattle has a lot of bookstores. I like that.” And my grad student, Matt Motyl, has done research looking at millions of people: When they move, do they, on average, move to a place that’s more conducive to their politics, or less? The answer is: more, on both sides.
So we’ve started to move into what — a phrase that — the sociologist Robert Bellah called “lifestyle enclaves.” We pick things based on these things like bookstores versus churches and gun ranges, but they end up just getting — we’re more and more purified. So that’s a real problem. So the echo chamber, because of our residential patterns and because of technology, the echo chamber gets more and more closed off.
Ms. Tippett: And just modernity as a whole. That’s so interesting.
Mr. Haidt: Well, it’s freedom. The more you are free and have the resources and have a society based on markets and businesses that will cater to what you want, and those are generally good things — well, if people choose where to live and who to associate with, they get ever more segregated.
Ms. Tippett: So progress leads to incivility.
[laughter]
Mr. Haidt: Of a sort, but again, progress leads to peacefulness, non-violence — but to us being shut off from each other, yes.
Ms. Tippett: And so you also speak of virtues, which is, I find, a word that’s very magnetic to modern people and to younger people. And so I like to talk about civility grounding virtues, as opposed to ground rules.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, I like that.
Ms. Tippett: Right? And I wonder how you — if you think that even that kind of language — I mean you talk about Ben Franklin’s United Party for Virtue, so this has a history with us too — if that might be something — something that can help.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, I think so. I think we went through — in America, at least, we went through a period in the ’60s and ’70s when the education establishment became extremely liberal, and part of that is a flirtation with relativism and a resistance — it’s horrible to think of adults telling kids what’s right and wrong. What a terrible thing. That’s oppression. And so we created these sort of value-free spaces, which conveys a value, which is that there’s no right or wrong. Everyone decides for themselves. Everyone’s opinion is equal. You should say your opinion. And then you get a lot of incivility.
What I would like to see is a revamped civics curriculum where we teach, very explicitly, the long tradition of left-right. We teach what each side is — you can’t say “right about,” that’s my language, but you teach what each side is concerned about, very much like the line here. Both are essential. One without the other creates an unbalanced American civic order. You need a party of progress or reform and a party of stability and order. That’s a paraphrase from John Stuart Mill. So I think that we could teach — in our civics classes, we could teach that the other side actually has a piece of the puzzle; both sides do. We need each other, more of a yin-yang idea. So I think there are indirect ways that we can foster these virtues in young people, which might lead to more practice.
Ms. Tippett: Right, so I mean I think we have to talk about virtues like virtues of hospitality, which also actually don’t even require you to like someone.
Mr. Haidt: Exactly. That’s right. So I think “virtue” sometimes gets a bad name, especially on the left, because it’s so associated with the Christian virtues and Christianity. But I think if we go back to an older Greek notion, where the virtues are excellences, arêtes. The arête, or excellence of a person is — well, there are many: to be hospitable, to be kind, to be honorable and honest. There are many virtues of a person. So I do think that virtue ethics is the only philosophical theory that matches human nature. I’d like to see us return to talking about virtues and teaching kids virtues. I think it would be helpful.
Ms. Tippett: OK. And do you have children?
Mr. Haidt: Yes.
Ms. Tippett: So I wonder — I’d be curious about how you take this science, what you learn through your science about being human, and how you — how it flows into your daily life, but also, in particular, what do you think you talk to your children about, do with your children, that you might not do if you weren’t practicing this profession?
Mr. Haidt: Yeah. I think — so it’s been much, much easier to do discipline, now that I’ve read about conservatives.
[laughter]
Because the temptation — my children are four and seven now, and when they were younger —because the liberal — my wife — I mean even though I’m a centrist, I’m a moderate, but by personality, I’m straight left. I’m a liberal personality. It’s allowed me to talk about, say, for example, being disrespectful. If I was still liberal, I would not have used that as part of raising my children. But now the concept — it’s not a big concept in our family, but at least I can talk about being respectful and disrespectful in ways — I mean about, like, adults. Like, “That’s not the right way to talk to adults.” Of course, liberals can do that, but I’m just saying there’s a certain conservative vocabulary about order, structure, and respect that’s easier for me now.
Ms. Tippett: Anything else that you would like to say, in the context of this conversation, that feels important in the sweep of your work?
Mr. Haidt: Let’s see. One of the first steps to solving these problems is to acknowledge your own limitations. Studying moral psychology has made me somewhat more humble. It’s made me realize that that my mind is gonna jump to conclusions, and they’re often wrong, and I can’t see that at first.
What’s been found about the way to make an effective apology, and this is just a good way to create any sort of change, is, start by saying what you’re wrong about. And so in any sort of politically charged encounter, don’t start off by making your case about what you’re right about. Start off by saying, my side has gotten some things wrong. We were wrong about this, historically, you guys were right about that. Or start off praising the other side. Start off in that way. Humility — your opponents could use it against you, but humility, acknowledging fault or praising something on the other side — I mean this is straight out of Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. But start off in that way, and then by the power of reciprocity, they’re more inclined to match you.
And what you want to avoid at all costs is the normal human interaction of — we’re combatants throwing arguments at each other for consumption, not by the other person, but by the onlookers. You want to avoid that dynamic. And so the power of apologies and acknowledgements and all the other stuff you need to do to prepare the ground for a conversation, that’s, I guess, what I’d most want to leave this group with, given that so many of you are engaged in trying to have these difficult conversations where the odds are against you, but it’s not impossible.
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Ms. Tippett: Jonathan Haidt has written this: “To live virtuously as individuals and societies, we must understand how our minds are built. We must find ways to overcome our natural self-righteousness. We must respect and even learn from those whose morality differs from our own.”

Expensive Grace

Anything that annoys you is teaching you patience.                                                                             Anyone who abandons you is teaching you how to stand up on your own two feet.                   Anything that angers you is teaching you forgiveness and compassion.                                       Anything that has power over you is teaching you how to take your power back.                        Anything you hate is teaching you unconditional love.                                                                        Anything you fear is teaching you courage to overcome your fear.                                                  Anything you can’t control is teaching you how to let go.
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