Founder – Chief Change Optimist – Author – Host – Speaker – TV/Radio Personality – Mentor
Ariane de Bonvoisin - Founder and Chief Change Optimist

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Good Versus Evil

At the TED conference, Phil Zimbardo, professor and author of The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil, addressed the questions: Will evil prevail? What makes people change and go wrong?

He talked about asking the right questions when something goes wrong. It’s not who is responsible, but what is responsible, There are generally three things to look at that can influence action: the disposition of a human being—what’s inside of them; the situation—what are the external factors; and the system—what are the political, economic and legal surroundings.

All evil starts very small, within ordinary people, according to Zimbardo. To illustrate this he detailed The Stanford Prison Experiment, which he performed to test the ability of a prison institution to change normal students. The results were so shocking that they had to end the experiment early and halt the horrific ways in which the students were hurting each other. It’s a slippery slope, a “mindless first step,” he said. "The line between good and evil is within everyone."

Zimbardo noted examples of how power without oversight leads to evil, at which point he showed us the horrific photos of Abu Ghraib prison. But he did provide a solution, which I love: “Heroism is the antidote of evil.” We all are heroes in waiting. A hero always starts as an ordinary person. Joe Darby was the hero that denounced what was happening at Abu Ghraib prison. Someone can see the same situation and choose to be heroic. Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of inaction.

We can change the world through a new hero mentality—a psychology of heroism—heroic talents, heroic imagination, courses on heroism for kids. Kids and teens are naturally drawn to anything heroic—just look at Harry Potter and the most loved cartoon character. We need to build those values up within all of us—actively doing the right thing, taking a stand, defending the underdog, speaking up and seeing the benefit of what we are doing. It starts with teaching our children that we are all connected—we are all part of the human race—and need to help each other out.

According to Zimbardo, there are three paths to choose in these situations: going with what is evil or wrong; passive inaction, which is where the majority lives; and heroes—the people we admire and who inspire us.

There will be a time in your life where a situation presents itself and you are given a choice to be a hero. Which path will you take?