Happy Labor Day everyone.
As we sit here on the eve of the school year, I wanted to highlight five things from The Righteous Mind which I think might be helpful as you start your college career.
5. College is an opportunity to broaden the palate (p. 141).
To use Haidt’s example of the taste of sweet beverages, just because an Eskimo tribe might lack a sweet beverage like apple juice or Coca-Cola, it doesn’t mean they lack the sweetness receptor. It more likely just means they have had no access to fruit to make the beverage. College allows us a number of new, similar opportunities. Maybe enroll in a course you’d never even thought of before just because it sounds cool, or try out a new sport like ultimate frisbee. (OK I might be biased with that last one).
4. Winning arguments requires a gentle hand (p. 56).
Haidt uses this analogy: “Just like you can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail, you cannot change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.” Another way to think of it might be changing the direction a moving car. Just like the mind’s elephant, a moving car has a lot of momentum. Which of these will be more effective at getting a car to alter its direction?
As an alternative to trying to stop a car’s momentum all at once, Haidt quotes ‘elephant-whisperer’ Dale Carnegie and his book How to Win Friends and Influence People: “Begin in a friendly way, smile, be a good listener, and never say ‘you’re wrong.'”
3. It’s not all about war (p. 252).
To quote Haidt, “Group selection does not require war or violence… In general, groupishness is focused on improving the welfare of the in-group, not on harming an out-group.” As you meet different people and make new friends, try not to be the type who comments negatively about others in an effort to be part of a group. We are not in high school anymore.
2. Some problems really can be solved by regulation (p. 348).
I guarantee that sometime this year there will be a university or class rule which you do not fully agree with or understand. This happened to me when I was in college and it happens to me even today. Over time, however, I’ve come to agree with the point Haidt makes here that the inefficiencies and hassles of rules are often balanced by their positive consequences and intended effects. Feel free to ask about anything you don’t understand, though. Professors and administrators are usually happy to explain to students the intent of their policies.
Speaking of which,
1. Our campus community is part of a shared intentionality (p. 238).
Haidt quotes Tomasello, who describes the difference between humans and other primates: “At some point in the last million years, a small group of our ancestors developed the ability to share mental representations of tasks that two or more of them were pursuing together. For example, while foraging, one person pulls down a branch while the other plucks the fruit, and they both share the meal.”
When I was in college, I remember feeling nervous to visit my professors’ office hours with questions. I felt like maybe they had more important things to do and I didn’t want to bother them. Now that I am the professor, I know how silly that way of thinking was. We chose this line of work because we enjoy it, sometimes at a big pay cut compared to alternative careers. Students and professors are part of a shared intentionality. Your education is our goal, and we enjoy teaching and helping you learn.
Comments? Disagreements? Again, these are my own tips, so feel free to use or ignore as you wish. Either way, I hope you have a great first year here at UMass-Dartmouth!