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 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.” 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.
 Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012), 98.
 “Jonathan Haidt’s Home Page”, People, New York University, last updated May 20, 2016, http://people.stern.nyu.edu/jhaidt/
 Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012), Loc 42.
 Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015).
 Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012), 219
 Ibid., 220
 Ibid., 127