Jonathan Haidt, the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business, gave the Thalheimer Lecture at an all-school special program on Tuesday, February 19. Author of the New York Times bestseller, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Professor Haidt's topic for the evening was "Discourse or Discord? How We Disagree Matters." After his presentation, he was interviewed by Bekah Agwunobi '19 and Vincenzo DiNatale '19, and then answered questions from the audience.
Earlier in the afternoon, more than 100 students poured into the Humanities Rotunda to hear Professor Haidt's thoughts on antifragility and parental coddling, identity politics, and campus safe spaces. Haidt's research has helped people to understand those who differ from them morally—not just across nations, but across the political divide. In his latest work, Haidt and his team have created the Open Mind Framework, an online program that takes users on a five-step journey that prepares them emotionally, psychologically, and practically for constructive engagement across differences.
During his evening remarks, Haidt posited that parents and school systems are overprotecting children. Just like our immune systems, and our bones, children's growth gain from disorder. "Stress, adversity, and negative emotions are essential for growth," he noted. On the issue of identity politics, Haidt urged students to beware of the notion of a common enemy in arguments and to embrace rather a common humanity. "This approach opens hearts first, then minds." And finally, Haidt noted that efforts to create safe spaces in classrooms can be counterproductive, stifling intellectual expression. He emphasized the importance of intellectual humility and the need for debate and dissent. "We need to seek out our critics." He ended his remarks by urging students "to learn, grow, and become educated."
Haidt earned his B.A. from Yale University in 1985 and his Ph.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. He then did postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago and in Orissa, India. He was a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia from 1995 until 2011, when he joined the NYU Stern School of Business. In 2012, Haidt was named a "Top 100 Global Thinker" by Foreign Policy magazine, and one of the 65 "World Thinkers of 2013" by Prospect magazine.
Professor Haidt's visit is made possible by the Thalheimer Educator-in-Residence Program.