Internationally acclaimed US academic and author Jonathan Haidt is warning of a rising generation of social-media addicted, pathologically anxious ‘Gen Z’ youths. Raised by overprotective parents, intolerant of diverse views – Haidt believes Western democracy is threatened by our expanding ‘call-out’ culture. Should we require a licence to operate a Twitter account?
What will happen when Gen Z gets into the workforce?
Professor Haidt was a guest of The Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC) and the Sydney Policy Lab, at the University of Sydney.
Professor Haidt was interviewed by Dr Sandra Peter, Director of Sydney Business Insights.
Jonathan’s latest book, The Coddling of the American Mind
Thoughts on Better Mental Health using ideas from The Coddling
Jonathan’s TED Talks:
- The moral roots of liberals and conservatives
- Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence
- How common threats can make common (political) ground
- Can a divided America heal?
Dale Carnegie’s 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People
This transcript is the product of an artificial intelligence - human collaboration. Any mistakes are the human's fault. (Just saying. Accurately yours, AI)
Podcast Intro This podcast is part of a collaboration between Sydney Business Insights and the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney, a series in which we explore the future of power.
Sandra Intro Professor Jonathan Haidt is an internationally renowned social psychologist and author, and he comes with a warning. He thinks Western democracy is under an existential threat from within. Jonathan is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He has also written a string of bestselling books and delivered four hugely popular TED talks, and he helps us make sense of some of the most alarming trends in contemporary, social, academic and political life. Issues like: why politics is more divisive now than at any other time in the last 50 years, why university students are marching across US campuses on a witch hunt for those with perceived dangerous ideas, and if social media is an existential risk to Western democracies.
Panel audio I'm so pleased to be here, to be at this beautiful University. I taught for 16 years at the University of Virginia. Our founder Thomas Jefferson, when he founded the University he said "for here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, or to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it". And that was true until about 2014. We are now really, really afraid to follow truth, because if you follow truth you could get in big trouble. In 2014 we had a wave of dis-invitations of speakers, and not necessarily speakers on the Right. Sometimes people who were on the left were also no-platformed or protested because they had said things that were disliked by certain constituencies on campus. We started hearing requests for 'safe spaces', a space that students could go if there was a talk on campus that they thought would be dangerous. A talk they didn't have to go to, but they were upset that the talk was being held.
Sandra Intro Jonathan's latest book the 'Coddling of the American Mind: how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure', links the rise of social media-addicted students soaring youth rates of anxiety and depression, to a violent intolerance for free speech at the elite campuses in North America. Jonathan warns that this call-out culture is spreading to other countries. He was in Australia as a guest of the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SHAARC), and the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney. My name is Sandra Peter, and I'm the Director of Sydney Business Insights, and I got to sit down for a one-on-one chat with Jonathan Haidt during his public speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Sandra Thank you so much for talking to me today, it's really great to have you here. I'm hoping to talk to you a little bit about the thinking that you've done in and around understanding the way in which technology kind of tends to warp our interactions, but also our institutions.
Jonathan A strange thing is happening recently, the Internet has been just marvellous and the ramifications for growth and learning and progress are extraordinary. But social media I think needs to be separated from the Internet, because social media connects people not in ways that encourage authentic communication, but in ways that put everyone on notice, that what I say to you doesn't actually really matter very much how you react. You're just one person. What I say to you is really guided much more by what thousands of other unseen people will think. And this changes the nature of communication, it makes us much more fearful. It makes us much more concerned with display, and it therefore warps conversations. It's always been hard to find the truth, but in the age of social media I'm almost in a state of despair. It's very hard to find the truth now.
Sandra So how do you think we came here? Because I think social media is one of the factors that makes conversations so difficult at this particular moment in history. What other things do you think got us here?
Jonathan It depends on what you want to focus on. The fact that many democracies are having trouble, particularly mine in the United States. The fact that many universities are going through a change. And then we can talk about corporations, because many of the changes happening in universities that began around 2014, 2015 in the United States. Those are now moving very quickly into the corporate world, at least in sectors that hire from our elite schools, such as media, technology, entertainment, and those fields.
Sandra We're an elite university here. So let's start with universities.
Jonathan Certainly. So there was a kind of a phase change in American universities around 2015, and what I mean by that is if you look at the attitudes of students about free speech or anything else, you don't find sharp changes. It's not that Gen Z, you know, kids born after 1996 or 1995, it's not that they believe very different things from what the Millennials believed. But there's been a phase change in how they can speak, and that I believe has been brought about by social media primarily. So we'll get back to that because that's a huge topic, but you asked what else is going on. The other thing that's going on in the United States, and it appears to be happening here in Australia and in Britain and Canada, is a vast over-protection of children, a sea change in how we think about children. I live in New York City, there's very little crime, I never hear about anybody getting mugged. Yet even still, Americans will not let their kids out because they could be snatched, they could be harmed.
Sandra If you look at the statistics around that, they are a very small part of what's going on in the US.
Jonathan That's right, in a country with 350 million people there's only about one hundred a year of kids who are abducted by a stranger. So it's essentially zero. And if you look at the increase in suicide in my country, which we can get back to why that is, but you know, the number of dead kids from suicide vastly outweighs the tiny number of kidnappings. So we've created Gen Z, we've made them fragile. We deprive them of what they most need, which is thousands or tens of thousands of experiences of facing a challenge or a setback, and then either surmounting it, or dealing with it and accepting it on their own. And beginning in the 1990s parents are always there, we swoop in, we protect them, we have an idea that kids are fragile and then we therefore make them fragile. So you put these two trends together, that we started depriving kids of experiences that would toughen and strengthen them in the 1990s, then those same kids got a wave of anti-bullying policies, so that if kids tease each other this is now considered bullying. So the same kids, Gen Z, were exposed to school environments that were incredibly protective, tried to stop kids from having conflicts. And then these same kids got social media way too young. Facebook opens up to the world in 2006. But Facebook isn't really addictive until 2009 when they add the Like button. And the data shows that it was between 2009 and 2011 that American teenagers moved from mostly not communicating online, to their social life moved online. And so it's right after that, by 2011 they're mostly online. In 2012 the mental health crisis begins. The rates of anxiety depression, self-harm and suicide start shooting upwards. They go up for boys, they go way up for girls. So what I'm saying is there are multiple factors that seem to have weakened Gen Z, and made them very fragile.
Sandra And this is the generation that is now in universities.
Jonathan Exactly. Many people still seem to think that young people are Millennials. Listen to me Australia, or whatever you are listening to this podcast. Kids who are in their teens, or 20, 21, 22 years old, do not think of them as Millennials. They had a very different childhood from the Millennials. Because the Millennials, they grew up with the Internet, at least the younger ones. But they did not get social media until they were in college. And it's not so much devices or the internet it seems to change people, it's specifically social media.
Sandra In what way does it divide us, social media?
Jonathan Social media has many, many effects, and we're just beginning to understand a lot of them. When doing the research for my book, The Coddling of the American Mind, written with Greg Lukianoff, we focussed on the rise in depression and anxiety. So that's the one that's the clearest. If listeners go to thecoddling.com and then click on SolutionsBetter Mental Health, we have two open source literature reviews, they're Google docs, that any expert can get permission to add to. And one shows very clearly that the mental health crisis in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia starts right around 2013, and that it's much, much worse for girls. So nobody's pushing back on us for that. There's agreement that that's happening. Then we have a second Google doc which is reviewing all the evidence we can find as to whether social media is a major contributor. And there, it's not perfectly consistent there are some researchers who say that it's not harmful, but the great majority of research, whether it's correlational and especially the experimental research, we've been able to find six true experiments, they all show a causal impact. If you quit social media, or reduce it, you get happier. So, we think the evidence is pretty clear, and given that nobody has any other explanation for the huge rise in depression, anxiety and suicide, since there's no other explanation that anyone can give that explains why it's happening in all of our countries at the exact same time. I think it kinda makes sense for authorities, doctors, medical associations, parents, and all of us to say until there's further evidence on this we should not be letting 11, 12, 13 year old kids on social media. They're the ones who are most affected by it, pre-teen girls. The suicide rate is up 150 percent for pre-teen girls in the United States. So I personally think the age of social media should be 16, I don't think we should let anyone under 16 have a social media account. I understand that you can't keep your kid off until 16 when everyone else is on. But my hope is that we can change the norms, once people recognise the enormity of what's happening to Gen Z, and the clear evidence pointing, not 100 percent certain, but pretty strong evidence pointing to social media.
Sandra Is there a slight contradiction there in that on the one hand would lead them to be less fragile, hence to be exposed to things that's stress them and that they need to cope with, and on the other hand the use of social media, then at 16 if they enter the social media space are they better prepared at that age to cope with the effects of it?
Jonathan Yeah, so you're right. In theory this contradiction there. You know you could say All right Professor right you're saying we should stop protecting our kids. But you're saying we should protect them from social media. Yes, that is what I'm saying, and here's the reason. In theory it could be that social media toughens kids, but there's something about climbing a little too high up a tree and then getting afraid and then getting down, or working with a knife and cutting yourself. There's something about direct physical feedback that we learn from, and it does toughen us, and it helps us judge risk. And in theory, being shamed on social media could do that too. But it doesn't. Being publicly shamed and humiliated has a very different effect from skinning your knee, or physical risk. Human beings are mammals, our brains require huge amounts of learning, and it just turns out that social media doesn't do it for us. So when I give talks on college campuses or high schools, I always ask the students afterwards: first of all, "I've said your generation is fragile and with a lot of mental illness, and here's why. Did I get this right or wrong?" And the vote is usually unanimous that I got it right. In other words Gen Z is not in denial, they know that they are in big trouble. Second, I usually ask "well you know being on social media early, there's two possibilities, maybe it toughens you? Maybe you've been shamed so many times you don't care what people think anymore. That's a possibility. The other possibility is being shamed a few times makes you pull in. It makes you cautious. It makes you feel you're walking on eggshells, you become more careful about what you say, you self-censor a lot. Which is it?". And the overwhelming vote of the students themselves is, it's the latter. So being shamed does not toughen you, it makes you cautious and self-censoring. And that's the generation that we have. Many of us professors, we've noticed just in the last few years, it's very difficult to get a conversation going in a seminar class. If the topic is at all controversial, students are afraid of being provocative. They're afraid of being called out.
Sandra So what would be a controversial topic in the US?
Jonathan Anything about race, gender, immigration, inequality, crime. I mean, anything that you called racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or Islamophobic. Because if anyone in the class can find a way to link what you said to any of those topics, you are at risk of being called out. And you can't defend yourself because your intent doesn't matter, it doesn't matter what you meant. The doctrine is it's not intent, it's impact. And so if I was harmed by what you said, you're guilty. There's nothing you can say.
Sandra So where does that leave healthy debate on campus?
Jonathan It leaves it off campus. And so it's migrated to, and there are some Internet forums where you can have it, but I don't think there is healthy debate on campus. And let me qualify that, in the United States there are over 4000 colleges and universities. The great majority are open admission, not competitive, not residential and at all of these places, at all 4000 of them pretty much, the mental health crisis is hitting. So this I'm finding everywhere, it's a generational thing and it's a global thing. So they're all overwhelmed by rising depression, anxiety. but the politicisation of fragility, the claim that 'the presence of this person on campus is a threat to me, even if I don't go to his talk', that politicisation has not happened at most of the schools. It's not happening at non-residential schools. And that's a big advantage you have here in Australia. Since your students, your undergraduates, don't generally live on campus, they go home at night. So a lot of the more arcane beliefs about speech is violence, and everything is power structures, those beliefs don't generally survive if students leave campus and talk with older people. But in American universities, at our elite schools that are residential, especially are liberal arts colleges in the Northeast and the West Coast. At those places the politicization is more the rule, and at those places, seminar discussions, from what I hear from students, they report to me 'Yep. We self-censor like crazy'.
Sandra Jonathan Haidt often cites an essay by an undergraduate student at Smith College, a prestigious female campus in North Hampton Massachusetts. Writing of her experiences in 2014, the student said:
Audio During my first days at Smith, I witnessed countless conversations that consisted of one person telling the other that their opinion was wrong. The word 'offensive' was almost always included in the reasoning. Within a few short weeks, members of my freshman class had quickly assimilated to this new way of non-thinking. They could soon detect a politically incorrect view and call out the person on their mistake. I began to voice my opinion less often, to avoid being berated and judged by a community that claims to represent the free expression of ideas. I learned, along with every other student, to walk on eggshells for fear that I may say something offensive. That is the social norm here.
Sandra So what, what can schools do? And in the US to fix this, and for us maybe to get better at doing this?
Jonathan So it's an enormous problem. And in the book, in The Coddling of the American Mind, we trace out six different causal threads that all came together. There's no one answer. So, first we need to change the way we raise kids so that they have thousands of experiences of stress, challenge, even small threats, and they learn to be a little stronger. So, American kids are simply not ready for college, they've had very little life experience. They often don't have a driver's licence, they often have not had a job. So we have to create stronger kids, that's vital, we can't really turn this around until our kids are not so fragile and easily frightened. That's vital. I think that American universities should stop admitting 18 year olds, I don't think American 18 year olds are ready for college. So we should have a gap year, or some sort of travel, foreign service, military service, even just working in another part of the country would be great. Okay, those are really hard things to do. The really easy thing to do is leadership. There's been hardly any leadership, because leaders don't understand. So leaders, university leaders, must talk about anti-fragility. They must talk about how growth requires challenge, it requires facing things you don't like. And at this university we will not protect you from things you don't like. We're not going to force you to attend talks, but we urge you, we urge you to seek out people who you strongly disagree with and listen to them. We urge you to read books that you'll find offensive, and we urge you to take advantage of all that there is at this university to get stronger. And then, when someone says 'oh we have to stop this speaker because it will be harmful'. Leadership must step in and say 'No. No, we don't do that here'. You know we don't have provocateurs who are coming here to provoke. But if it's a scholar, if it's a professor or a scholar who has evidence and you don't like the evidence, tough luck. We're not going to shut it down just because you find it offensive. Furthermore, leaders must be very clear about the purpose of the institution. It is not about promoting mental health. It is not about promoting justice. It is about learning, discovery and truth. And we need speech norms appropriate to that. So just as any university would and should kick out someone who commits plagiarism, we can't have people who just steal ideas, you know that's a tremendous violation of academic norms. Anyone who shouts down a speaker, or prevents another student from attending a talk should be expelled, because it's a violation of core academic norms. So leadership, it didn't happen in America, but when there is these events, when there's a protest against a speaker, it's fine to protest, none of us object to that. But if the protest gets to the point of interfering with the talk, anyone who takes part in that should be expelled on the spot, because leadership has to make clear: this university is a platform on which views can contest, we don't allow intimidation, but we do allow people to come with evidence and arguments.
Sandra So what happens in this case, whilst you still have social media on the side, where the students who attend these talks, or the students who participate in this can still be shamed on social media, can still be ostracized outside of these places?
Jonathan Well that's right, because the students protesting will take photos and videos and post them, so it is a problem. I don't actually think we can solve these problems as long as social media is the way it is. I'm very pessimistic about the future of my country, of the future of democracy, because of social media. I think this is a problem from hell, and what I'm focussed on is at least postponing until the age of 16. But even if we keep kids off until 16 and they're less depressed, they will still be using social media to shame and intimidate each other. So that's a much harder problem. There I'm hopeful that enough of us will just get sick of it and say 'this is crazy, we can't live this way', and we'll just stop using it.
Sandra You mentioned six.
Jonathan Oh yeah. Okay, so the six that we cover in the book: one is the rising political polarization. So in America, left and right used to just this like each other, but beginning in the early 2000's, the cross-partisan hatred began ramping up. And while left and right hate each other more and more, the university has gone from leaning left, to being very far on the left. So the overall left-right ratio of faculty used to be just two to one, in the 90s, and now it's five to one, and the Conservatives are mostly in the engineering school and the agricultural school. Second thread is rising depression anxiety. Third is that parents are always there, which we talked about. Four, decline of play and opportunities for freedom. The fifth is changes to administration and campus procedures, the rise of bureaucrats. Let's see, there's also changing ideas about social justice. We moved away from equal opportunity, which we always believed in in America, to equal outcomes. Any time there's not equal outcomes by race or gender, it's considered to be structural racism or sexism, and you're not allowed to talk about base rates or pipelines, it's just automatically racism.
Sandra You talk a lot about ideological diversity, and that seems to be a central motif of a lot of the strife you see. Are there other types of diversity that are important, other than ideological, which you think we should attend to?
Jonathan Sure. Sure, so there's a lot of research on whether diversity makes work groups more productive, whether diversity makes boards more effective, and in theory it should. It certainly makes sense that it would. Given all we know about confirmation bias, the more a group is homogeneous the more there'll will be pressure to go along, and having one person, suppose a board is all male and you have one woman on, that should have an enormous effect, a challenge in confirmation bias. So in general, diversity should break up groupthink, so I am a fan of it, but it's an empirical question. And the research on the effects of gender diversity on boards, and any kind of diversity on boards, is based on correlational studies. The more you try to isolate causality, the more you find it actually doesn't have much of an effect either way. So because we worship diversity, at least in American universities, nobody can criticise it, nobody can talk about countervailing findings. I guess I'm taking a bit of a risk here, I hope nobody in America listens to the podcast. I've done reviews of the literature on the effects of diversity, and the main one that does somewhat consistently show benefit, is diversity of perspectives. And what that typically means is, if you have a cross-functional group, if you have, you know, one person from marketing and one person from engineering, and you know one person from, well a couple of people from management. So diversity of perspectives is actually the only one that's been shown to consistently have benefits. So what does that mean for putting together a team? The thing you have to be aware of is groupthink, and so you should look at race, gender, social class, all sorts of things. But the main one, especially if the goal is to find truth. If your goal is to find truth, and especially if it's about social policy, that's where I think that political or viewpoint diversity is the most important one just in theory, but because we're so focussed on all of the others, I mean we're trying hard to get all of the others, and we're kind of trying hard to not have political diversity.
Sandra What are some ideas that we hold to be true that are quite dangerous, because we know from research, or we have good data that shows that they're not true, but they are commonly accepted truths about how the world works?
Jonathan The idea of interpreting everything through the lens of power. Of course power matters, power corrupts, power shapes what happens, but anytime you give students a single lens, you're damaging their thinking. To be clear, anytime you teach students to see everything through one lens you're making them, not exactly blind, but you're guaranteeing that they will never understand anything complicated. I like to tell the story about a week I spent where, on Monday I visited a university where everybody was a Freudian and all the students learned that everything is about sex, and they learned to interpret everything through the lens of sex. And I thought 'these poor kids', I mean sex matters but it's not everything. Then on Tuesday I went to university where all the faculty were economists, and they taught the kids that everything is about money, and all we do is just for money. And then on Wednesday, it was all about self-esteem, obviously I'm making this up, but the point is, we can imagine a lot of ways of crippling young minds by giving them one story, one theory to explain everything. And that's what I run into a lot when I speak on campuses is that there are often students who've learned that everything is power structures, life is a zero sum battle between groups. Those groups are based on their identities, race and gender especially, and so justice means taking down the powerful groups and destroying power structures. And there are times when that analysis is useful, but it is kind of blinding. Social problems are quite complicated, and when you have monomaniacs working on it, people who focus on one thing, they just make solutions harder.
Sandra So how do we have better public debates, better public conversations? Because as you said, these topics are quite complex and there seems to be no space in public debate, or less and less space in public debate, for things that are complicated. People do have books on 'the one thing', and have conversations about 'the one thing'.
Jonathan So John Stuart Mill wrote about this, and On Liberty: Chapter Two is the most brilliant thing ever written on free speech. And he starts off with, the first objection is that well sometimes people are just wrong and there is no other side. And sometimes that certainly is true, but you can never know when it is. So just to take climate change, I think there's no doubt that the temperature is going up and that it was manmade. But should we ban people who give low estimates, and say 'well actually, my research shows that it's not warming as fast'? Should we allow them to publish, or should we shame them and call them deniers? What should we do about people who say 'well you know, yeah, the climate is warming, and is manmade, but the way to do this is with nuclear, or other things or with market solutions'. This is one of most vital topics of our day, and as long as anyone who takes the contrary side on any issue will be called a denialist, and their career is in danger. So that pretty much guarantees that we're not going to figure this out, or at least we'll be hampered. I should say, we will be hampered in figuring this out. So no, if somebody just wants to say 'oh this is just a bunch of hogwash'. No, there's no reason to just have people shouting that. But if it's a researcher, whose research brings a contrary position on something, they should be dealt with by people bringing other evidence, not by shaming and humiliating them.
Sandra You mentioned John Stuart Mill, and I know you've actually re-edited part of his work, and it is an absolutely brilliant chapter. Are there any other classical thinkers that you think we should bring in to this century? And are there any other big ideas currently today that you think we're not taking enough notice of?
Jonathan Yes. So Isaiah Berlin a very important 20th century philosopher who wrote brilliantly on pluralism. We live in a tolerant, diverse society. We don't want to retreat to relativism, and say 'well therefore, let's not have any standards'. And so Isaiah Berlin is, I think, the most thoughtful philosopher, about how there are multiple human goods, there are multiple human virtues, and how do we live in a society in which some of us prioritise goods A, B, D and Q, whereas others do B, C, F and Q So we need to get much better at pluralism if we're going to have diversity as the first. And the second, let's see, who should I nominate... I guess I could say Jesus Christ, I'm, you know I'm a Jewish atheist, so I'll say Jesus, Buddha, anyone else who talked about humility, humility has always been sorely lacking in human affairs. But my goodness, do we need it now. For as a general attitude, social media encourage us to say strong things, to be certain we're right, and it always gives us evidence to prove that we're right and our enemies are wrong. And so we all need to realize just how deluded we are. It's always been hard to find the truth. But now I believe it is so much harder to find the truth in the age of social media, that we all need to step back, cut the things we forward, the outrage stories we forward, cut those by 90 percent. And just be a lot more tolerant, forgiving and thick-skinned. Otherwise we're just not going to make it.
Sandra I want to take you a little bit to your life as a public intellectual, because I think we live in an interesting era where on one part, academia kind of looks sideways at public intellectuals, people who have tried to have other conversations are sometimes seen as 'oh, well you're not being serious enough researchers because you're spending time giving public talks'. On the other hand, we're actually seeing this backlash against intellectuals in general, if we look at the discourse in the US. Where does that leave us, as academics?
Jonathan The idea that academics shouldn't be public intellectuals, that was a common idea when I was in graduate school in the 1990s. And the common law when I was an assistant professor was 'don't write a book until you got tenure, because it will discredit you, don't write a popular book, a trade book, until you get tenure because your colleagues will look down...
Sandra You're not being serious enough.
Jonathan You're not being serious, yeah. But a couple of things happened. I think the extraordinary success of TED.com. The extraordinary success of a number of people like Steve Pinker and E.O. Wilson who are fantastic writers, they're just gorgeous writers. And so if you can write a book that is beautiful and nuanced, and it gets public acclaim, and in the age of TED, you give a TED talk. So right around 2006 when my book The Happiness Hypothesis came out, I had the sense that things flipped, and that if you're a sell-out, I mean if you were to write a book that dumbs things down, well yeah, your colleagues are going to criticize you for that. But I've been very pleased that with my three books, that my fellow academics, no one said that I'm dumbing things down or I'm selling out. I get a lot of praise for them, because in psychology we really talked for a long time about the importance of bringing our ideas out to the public. And so people who write successful trade books in psychology, actually don't suffer any penalty, they actually gain in prestige. Now about the reaction, that comes more from the political right. There's a long strand of conservative thinking, obviously, was it Michael Gove? Who was it who said that people have had enough of experts? That's a view that you mostly hear on the right. And there, I think part of it is that as the Academy has gone from leaning left, I mean people always kind of thought professors are lefties, and prone to communist sympathies, things like that. And there's always been some truth to that. But it was a relative lean to the left, and there were conservative professors. As professors and as scientists have moved to the left and have taken positions on public issues, I think it's understandable that many people on the right have lost faith in them. The right, in America, has not lost trust in science, they've lost trust in scientists. And I think that's related to the fact that we're now so far on the left, on the whole, that in a time of culture war, the right looks down on universities.
Sandra And isn't that sort of what's happening at TED as well? Is it about the diversity in the speakers, or the diversity in the audience?
Jonathan Yeah, I guess it's more the audience and the community.
Sandra I remember you had an interview and you polled the audience on who was on the left and who was on the right.
Jonathan Yeah, yes.
TED Talk Audio I'll ask you to raise your hand, whether you are liberal, left of centre on social issues we're talking about primarily, or conservative. And I'll give a third option, because I know there are a number of libertarians in the audience. So right now please raise your hand if you would say that you are liberal or left of centre. Please raise your hand high right now. OK. Please raise your hand if you say you're libertarian. OK. About two dozen. And please raise your hand if you say you are right of centre or conservative. One, two, three, four, five. About eight or ten. OK. This is a bit of a problem, because if our goal is to understand the world, to seek a deeper understanding of the world, our general lack of moral diversity here is gonna make it harder.
Jonathan That's right, there clearly is a left-leaning vibe to TED, as there is at almost every Ideas Festival. However, I can say that Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, is really aware of this, and is really working on it, and is trying to bring more diverse voices politically. Anybody who is serious in the world of ideas, knows the dangers of groupthink.
Sandra How can we work harder in business? So, my background is from a business school, we have a lot of students who will end up running many of these organizations, or working in them. How can we have better conversations in business? Because we've seen a failure, and we've seen groupthink in organizations as well.
Jonathan Yeah. This is always an issue in business. We always talk of how we need to speak up culture we need people to contribute ideas so we've been talking about that for decades. It's about to get a lot harder has Gen Z comes in, and Gen Z(ee) or Gen Z(ed), as they're much more sensitive and fragile about speech, they're going to be objecting a lot more, so the walking on eggshells culture is coming in. When I talk with business leaders in the United States, I always ask them: 'Do you have any young employees? Employees that graduated from college in the last year or two, how are they doing? And people say 'Oh my God, it's just like some of them are just primed for conflict. It's like, it's always turmoil. There's always a conflict over something someone said'. So I think it's going to get a lot harder. Now, I think there's a couple things that business leaders can do to head off the problems, and improve the speech climate. One, is include viewpoint diversity in all of your discussions and statements about diversity. We need a variety of kinds of diversity, and recognize that even having ideological or political diversity matters. Depends on the field, but of course if you're in tech, they're getting into a lot of trouble, because people on the right feel that they're biased against them. If you had a few conservatives on there, you probably could create a better product. So, treat political diversity as an important kind of diversity, along with the others, that's one. Another is, recognise that in the age of social media, most of us are afraid to speak honestly, sometimes. And so what can you do about that? My colleagues and I created a program called Open Mind, if you go to openmindplatform.org, you can get a link, you can send it out to your people. For small groups it's free, just do it. For whole companies, we would charge, because we're going to be giving you more services, we have to, we have to pay our bills. But go to openmindplatform.org, and it walks you through five steps, including John Stewart Mills arguments: why will you benefit from being exposed to different ideas? How do you do it? How do you actually start a conversation? So I think you can't just take for granted that people have the skills to talk to people who are different from them anymore. They don't, they really don't have those skills anymore. And so you need to teach them. You need to reward them. So I would say if leaders, if everybody would assign OpenMind, and then also buy copies of Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. If every leader of every organization, including every university, required incoming people to read Dale Carnegie, simple techniques for starting conversations for avoiding arguments, we'd all be a lot better off.
Sandra So we always end the interview by asking people if you could teach business school students one thing, what would it be? Would it be assigning copies of this?
Jonathan Yeah, if I can teach business students one thing, it would be how to add value to your company by being able to deal with differences, be it a racial, gender or political. How to deal with them constructively, which means behind the scenes, not calling anyone out. How to basically put out fires, rather than start fires. That I think is the skill any Gen Z(ed), any Gen Z(ee) students who have that, employers are going to realize 'Hey. There's a person who can add value to my company, rather than a person who's gonna be a liability'.
Sandra Professor Jonathan Haidt, thank you so much for talking to us today, a real pleasure.
Jonathan Oh, my pleasure Sandra, thanks for having me on.
Podcast Outro This conversation with Professor Jonathan Haidt is part of a collaboration between the Sydney Policy Lab and Sydney Business Insights. Professor Haidt was hosted in Australia by the Sydney Social Sciences And Humanities Advanced Research Centre at the University of Sydney. Sound was by our editor Megan Wedge, and research was by Jacquelyn Hole.