DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Morality and Fashion

Written by: on April 2, 2019

It was February 2015 and overnight, everyone and their mother became concerned with the latest fashion statement. Everyone had an opinion on it and people were camped out solidly on their side. The internet was roaring. It’s almost as if you could hear the virtual chanting in the streets, “Gold, Gold, Gold!” and “Blue, Blue, Blue!” In the end, people were seeing what they wanted to see – it was visual ambiguity at it’s finest[1] and it gave us all and understanding about the division of the mind. You know what I’m talking about.

 

Johnathan Haidt is currently a professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU, having left University of Virginia in 2011.[2] His writing has centered on moral foundations of the mind, so it’s no wonder that his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion spends a good portion of time unpacking the mind, and how it has developed morality, which has shaped our social and cultural systems. Haidt’s book almost reads as an autobiography through his research, and breaks it down into three main parts.

 

The first portion of his book really centers on intuition as the first point of interaction, not strategic reasoning.[3] In essence, Haidt argues that the mind is actually divided and the larger portion is devoted to our unconscious reasoning; it’s the thing that we have an automatic response to. Think back to 2015 for yourself – when you first saw the dress, was it gold and white or blue and black? That’s our unconscious reasoning at work – it’s the gut reaction.

 

Part two of Haidt’s work centers around the idea that we’ve really gotten good at polarizing our society between things like harm and fairness. However, people are complex, as we’ve learned.[4] People, and the morality that they hold, cannot be limited to two poles, but instead have multiple different things to influence them. I remember thinking that I couldn’t actually believe that someone else believed that the dress could be seen in any other way other than mine. I had divided my reasoning into my way and theirs, and I was loyal to a fault to my color choice. Everyone seemed ready to go to battle and they were only using their moral thinking as a way to justify their own correctness in the colors of a dress.[5]

 

Finally, Haidt talks through the third portion, which is focused all around the idea that morality both binds us and blinds us. He talks a lot about how we have evolved to compete with each other individuals from our same groups, but we also have a tendency to compete in a group with folks from other groups. While these things are true, in the end, what’s clear is that we really love to be in a group.[6] In the end, people fell solidly into one camp – either blue and black or gold and white and felt an automatic sense of kinship with that tribe, that group, that believed what they did.

 

But here’s the thing, I also remember the day, probably just a few days after my first glimpse of the dress, where I actually saw it as the opposite color set for the first time. I glimpsed what others glimpsed, and no longer did I find them to be completely off base, but I could see where they were coming from. As Haidt said, “It felt good to be released from partisan anger.”[7] As I  saw the dress as the other color set, I understood the point of view the others were coming from, and it was almost as if my conscious mind understood my unconscious bias from the others side. I remember feeling relaxed and no longer threatened. I remember feeling a sense of camaraderie outside my group, and that it wasn’t a competition, but it became something to laugh over. While Haidt probably wouldn’t dare to have morality compared to a piece of fashion, the idea that one dress could become so polarizing for so many helped me understand how bigger and more important things like politics and religion can too. And for the record, I’m always team blue and black.

 

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[1] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012), 98.

[2] “Jonathan Haidt’s Home Page”, People, New York University, last updated May 20, 2016, http://people.stern.nyu.edu/jhaidt/

[3] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012), Loc 42.

[4] Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015).

[5] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012), 219

 

[6] Ibid., 220

[7] Ibid., 127

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

4 responses to “Morality and Fashion”

  1. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Karen,
    Thanks for your post and your thoughts. Your visual was very helpful in “seeing” how we can see things so definitely and yet over time realize how the other may see the same “dress” from their perspective. As always very helpful and thought provoking.

  2. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    What a clever way to address this book Karen! I love that you chose the quote about it feeling good to be released from ‘partisan anger’. While I don’t claim to understand the political polorization of the U.S., I have certainly experienced polorization on issues within the church. It has never been a good feeling, even if my ‘side’ got ‘our way.’ Somehow the very notion that there would be a winner and a loser never seemed to be the way of Christ. I’ve often felt that the longer we linger on divisive issues, the more of a foothold our actual enemy gets. Even on some fairly major points I will advocate for moving on relatively quickly if only to get back to the common calling and work we can agree on—because our unity is a greater strength than a piece of mistaken theology is a liability (Douthat would likely disagree on that one.) So how would you go about cultivating a diminished emphasis on ‘choosing a side’? Or even elevating the value in understanding the ‘other side’?

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      This is a good point, Jenn, but in some things, Jesus was clearly choosing one side over the other. For instance, he was consistently on the side of the marginalized and the oppressed. So while I understand what you’re saying, I think at times, we rush to agree on things rather than thinking critically about them. That being said, I do feel like we need to spend more time “Majoring on the Majors and Minoring on the Minors” as John Wimber used to say. In essence, we need to spend time on what the most important tenets of our faith are, and less time wasted on the things that aren’t make it or break it issues in our faith. I think calling people to remember what the major tenets of faith are consistently reminds us that we start with agreement on important things. When you can humanize the other person, it always makes things easier.

  3. mm Sean Dean says:

    I too remember the dress thing, but rather than see it as two teams I see one as reality and the other as perception manipulation. Within the photography blogs that I was reading a lot of at the time it was obvious that the white and gold dress was simply the blue dress with the color saturation removed. As a result I never joined a team, they’ve always been the same dress to me. I think that so much of the partisan rancor that we deal with isn’t about the issues as much as it is about how the issues are presented to us. For instance if the dress thing had been presented as: look at this pretty blue dress, now see what happens when we lessen the color saturation, it would have never become an issue because we all would have seen what was happening. Instead because of the Photoshop trickery of someone it became cantankerous.

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