Learn to See Humanity

Excerpt from "The Psychology behind Morality," an On Being conversation with Jonathan Haidt and Krista Tippett:

Ms. Tippett: Here’s something from your writing that — it’s a very striking statement. “The myth of pure evil,” — and again, 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 naive realism.” That’s a pretty strong statement.

Dr. 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.

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, with just, I’ve got to understand this stuff, over time, I realized, well, they’re not crazy. You know, 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.

See also:

  • Friendliness Resistance Training
  • Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon Books. (library)
  • Haidt, J. (2008, March). Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives. (TEDTalks