I’ve just read Phillip Zimbardo’s article in the April edition of Oprah’s magazine courtesy of my mum. It was promoting The Lucifer Effect which I now finally have a copy of. The article was titled For Goodness’ Sake. I recommend it if you can find it and want a primer into the book.
There was one point that I wanted to bring up because it reminded me of something I wanted to write about a while ago. It is in relation to the banality of evil and particularly how humans can perform acts that they would never consider when certain outside influences are at play. He talks of how roles we’ve assumed, rules that govern our behaviour, groups whose acceptance that we crave can all affect how we behave. One line though is, “when we’re in uniforms or dressed in ways that conceal our identity.” This is what reminded me of my thoughts from a few weeks ago.
Every time I get in my car to drive somewhere I know I’m going to encounter someone who is going to behave in a horrible manner. Unheroic even. I know that I’ll be cut off with no warning for very little reason. Or maybe I’ll have someone speed up behind me and sit a few feet behind until I move over, doing the same to the next person in line. Or any number of things. I was in some traffic coming home one day contemplating this as car after car refused to let people onto the highway in a construction zone. I wondered how people could be so rude to each other. And of course, it’s because they’re in their vehicles with their identities concealed. The cars are a bubble of privacy and anonymity that allow for horrid behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated in person. Can you imagine the same kind of etiquette being shown in a mall?
So, if you’d like to see the true person, follow them in their car for an hour. See how they drive. It won’t work if you’re in their car with them because the bubble doesn’t exist any more. You’ll notice that you never actually drive with any of those people that weave through traffic – they’re always driving alone. A hero is only a hero if they behave heroically when no-one’s watching.