The Righteous Mind book cover on a desert background.

“The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt

Sigh…I have to find a better way to keep track of why I put a book on my wishlist. Seriously. If you have any ideas, please leave me a comment. I’m think maybe I’ll start adding a section of my idea card file called “Books” and actually write it down: the title, where I heard it or the author, what I know or what brought me to want to read it, and the date. It seems that physically writing things down, not kept in an app or on a website, works best for me.

I’m fairly certain that I heard Jonathan Haidt interviewed on a podcast recently and that’s why I added The Righteous Mind to my Thriftbooks wishlist. The subtitle alone would make you want to read it, right? Why are good people so divided?

The past few years I’ve felt more and more pushed away by my friends and family over politics. Religion? Well, it sure looks like our whole nation has created a new religion centered on politics, so maybe they’re one and the same these days. Maybe The Righteous Mind will help me sort that out.

The great divide came to my notice when Donald Trump was elected, but I know it was growing long before that. People were getting heated and upset, arguments were getting nastier and more personal, debate and discussion, even among close friends, was ending, but the day after the election is what really started to scare me.

Years ago, a friend started a group order from an online organic food company that brought the whole order by truck to our area once a month. We’d all meet there and sort through it, getting our bulk quinoa and whole grains. It was a cheap way to get all the things we couldn’t find in our rural desert town and, when it was small, it was a great monthly meetup for all of us, too.

As the order grew, the management of it was passed to someone else and it started to be less fun and more of a chore, but still worth the time because I got things I couldn’t get at the store. Since my sons were nearly grown and not so much interested in going to homeschool events and park days, it was a chance to see and catch up with other moms I didn’t get to see that often anymore.

The day after the 2016 election was the last day that I picked up an order at that truck. I knew it was going to be a strange time by the tone people were already using on social media. But I believed that in person, things would be different.

When I arrived, the truck was already there and unloading. People were gathered in small groups at their cars, talking and waiting for their name to be called, as usual. I saw a few people I knew, stopped to talk to one friend and then heard my name. As I walked over to get my few things, I overheard conversations that made my blood run cold. I know, I’m dramatic, but it did scare me. And the past eighteen months has built on that feeling in tremendous ways.

I heard tears and actual wailing. I heard comments like, “If I know anyone that voted for him, I’m going to kill them.” “We should find them all out and do something.” “I can’t imagine what kind of a horrible person would vote for someone like that.” There were actual threats over national politics, by people I thought were peace lovers. I said nothing to anyone. I loaded my truck and drove away. Since that day, I’ve spoken to only one person that was there. These are my neighbors, and some were friends.

I could go on about this, but I don’t think I need to. The point is not that one politician, or party, is better or worse than another. The point is that good people, people I had no problem talking with before an election, now were standing there threatening people for disagreeing with them. Standing there among them I heard tones of a mob, Nazi brownshirts, and the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition at a food truck pickup!

And it seems things have only gotten worse over the last five years. And it has nothing to do with the politicians themselves. It’s us. We’re doing this to each other voluntarily. When I heard Jonathan Haidt interviewed, I had to run out and get this book. Maybe it will help me learn why this is happening. Why are we treating each other like enemies? Why are we separating into sides instead of working together? And how can people I have always believed were open-minded and reasonable adults become so violently opposed to the “other side?”

From the introduction, “I’m not saying we should live our lives like Sen-ts’an. In fact, I believe a world without moralism, gossip, and judgement would quickly decay into chaos. But if we want to understand ourselves, our divisions, our limits, and our potentials, we need to step back, drop the moralism, apply some moral psychology, and analyze the game we’re all playing.”

That’s exactly what I crave when I check social media, read articles and books, watch videos, and talk with friends and family, “to understand ourselves.” None of us is outside the battle of division. The best way to calm things down, in my opinion, is to try and understand the other side of every argument. Hopefully, The Righteous Mind will be enlightening.

Want to read my final thoughts on this book? Click over to Moral Foundations Theory: A Book Review. Heads up: There’s a giveaway there!