As FIRE President Greg Lukianoff writes in The Huffington Post today, last year was full of thought-provoking popular non-fiction, with one book standing out to him: The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment by psychologists Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The book focuses on Americans’ “comfort addiction” and the negative effects of always being comfortable.
As Greg notes, people’s desire to be exposed only to what is comfortable is behind many recent FIRE cases and related issues. For example, trigger warnings became a hot issue on college campuses in 2014, as students began to increasingly demand protection from material that could be emotionally damaging. Disinvitation efforts also became more common last year, with students and faculty working to rescind invitations to commencement speakers based on their opinions.
In their book, Kashdan and Biswas-Diener also address diversity initiatives and how they can backfire and cement stereotypes—another phenomenon FIRE has seen before.
In 2007, at the University of Delaware (UD), FIRE saw one of the worst cases of a diversity initiative gone wrong. In this program, UD attempted to force its beliefs on politics, race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism onto students through intimidation and coercion. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener found that after being physically or mentally exhausted, people communicated better across lines of difference. This suggests that discussions on diversity would be more productive in a more relaxed setting—precisely the opposite of what UD created.
As Greg explains, FIRE has seen far too many students punished for nothing more than their candor:
Another example of the dangers of candor came out of Syracuse University in 2012. Syracuse’s School of Education effectively expelled Matt Werenczak, an education student who complained on his own Facebook page about a comment that he thought was racially insulting.
So, while it seems obvious that candor is essential, campuses–and even society at large–too often do more to discourage it than promote it.
The Upside of Your Dark Side proposes an idea that universities often reject: “To be open and receptive to creative ideas, we need to be open and receptive to discomfort.”
FIRE has seen this principle in action. Last month, the University of Iowa censored anti-racist art because of the discomfort it caused. The piece of art, a Ku Klux Klan-style robe made out of newspaper clippings about racial events in American history, was meant to make students uncomfortable precisely in order to provoke thought. Though some students did indeed engage with the artist and come to understand and appreciate his point of view, the university nonetheless removed the display, publicly denounced the artwork, and apologized to any students who had been troubled by its mere presence on campus.
We hope you’ll read Greg’s full review of the The Upside of Your Dark Side, which includes his thoughts on the best books of 2014.
Read more about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education at The Huffington Post.