Yanni and Laurel, The Romance that Will Improve Therapy (and may save the world…)

I make no bones about the fact that I am a huge fan of Jonathan Haidt, the moral psychologist who is now tenured at NYU in the business school to help improve ethics in business.

Therefore, I would like to take this topic up again in light of a new romance that I am following on the web – The Romance of Yanni and Laurel.

For those of you who don’t know of this blossoming love story, I deposit here a video for your consideration. Please look at the video before you read any further.

OK, now take a moment to think about what this means. What did you hear? Did you hear Yanni? Laurel? You will only hear one.

As a therapist, It’s my duty to understand the world through a patient’s subjective experience, to the best of my ability. That means, I must begin treatment by accepting the way they see the world, even if this view is causing them suffering, which it often is. It also means I must understand their belief systems, to the best of my ability, whether moral, religious, political, sexual or otherwise.

This is one of the reasons I love why Jonathan Haidt. A meticulous scientist, he devoted years to his “Moral Foundations Theory”.  Haidt, in The Righteous Mind (2012) demonstrates that human morality is based on these five foundations: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. Here it is in a Ted Talk, where Haidt explains the concept:

What Haidt discovered is that the moral systems of people with different political and temperamental inclinations vary. This theory states that, the more left of the spectrum one is inclined, the more the moral domains of Care and Fairness dominate a person’s moral system. The more to the right, the more Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity. Towards the center and on the center right, all 5 domains are distributed more or less equally.

This means that good people can see the world through entirely different moral lends. This also means that the other side might seem, unfortunately, to possess an inferior morality.

When I met the seperate singles, Yanni and Laurel, my first thought gravitated to Haidt in that if we are ensconced in a moral system, whatever that may be, that is the filter through which we understand the world. And these filters can be entirely different, yet what we perceive through these filters is what we absolutely believe to be true. We either hear Yanni or Laurel.

So, now we see that people have different moral systems. Each thinks they are moral beings and the other, as demonstrated by our divided world, less moral, or even immoral. You hear Yanni or you hear Laurel, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Or shall they? Two lovers passing like ships in the night. What can bring them into the daylight so they can see each other?

Ok, now take what you thought you were hearing and decide to hear the opposite. If you hear Yanni, try to hear Laurel. Keep trying. Leave the computer and go back. It took me about 30 times. Come on, make an effort! Keep doing it until…Aha! You heard Laurel!

If you make a decision to look at the world through a different filter, suddenly your subjective reality changes. Suddenly, you hear things in a different way, as someone else does.

So, here’s the amazing thing. Once you train yourself to hear the other name, you will be able to cycle back and forth at will. You can hear both sides of the story!

Now, you try to imagine what it is like to be in the opposite moral system? If you are more liberal, try to imagine valuing Loyalty as much as Fairness? Or, if you are on the right side of the spectrum, on the other side, valuing Fairness as much as Sanctity? Try it. Take some time. It will be worth it. Do the same exercise with envisioning an alternate moral system. Practice until it feels real. Honing this skill allows you to see the world in your way and your opposite’s way at will.

Doesn’t mean you have to change, but this exercise may yield some insight. Can you imagine how healing it would be to understand the experience of your “opponent”? To see the world through their eyes?

Sometimes a therapist sitting with a patient and hearing Yanni when the patient is saying Laurel takes some time to reconcile. Dedication to this task makes for good therapy.

Dedication to the task of envisioning another person’s moral system might heal our divide.

Now, let’s play matchmaker!!



If you need to practice, here is an easier one to get you started:

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