Zimbardo Speech at Stanford

I found a speech from Phil Zimbardo on YouTube that was done at Stanford in October.  I like seeing the evolution of his speech over the months, so figured I’d offer this latest one to you with some Cliff’s notes.  Watch the movie below.  (As usual there are graphic scenes from Abu Ghraib.  Hero stuff starts at 44 minutes)

Evil is

The exercise of power to:

  • Harm (phsychologically)
  • Hurt (physically)
  • Destroy (mortally)
  • Commit crimes against humanity

The Road To Evil

  • Mindlessly taking the first step
  • Dehumanization of others
  • De-individualization of self (Anonymity)
  • Diffusion of personal responsibility
  • Blind obedience to authority
  • Uncritical conformity to group norms
  • Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference
  • Accepting an ideology that accepts evil

Heroism is the antidote to evil

We want to promote the heroic imagination by creating an educational system that instills in every child the self-belief that, “I am a Hero-in-Waiting.  I will act heroically when my time comes.”

Banality of Evil: Ordinary people commit extra-ordinary evil deeds.
Banality of Heroism: Ordinary people commit extra-ordinary good deeds.

Most heroes are one time heroes.  They rise to the occasion.

The very same situation that can inflame the hostile imagination in those who become perpetrators of evil can also inspire the..
Heroic Imagination in others of us or…
Render most people passive bystanders and guilty of the Evil of Inaction.

One day you will be in a new situation with three paths.

Path One: You become a participant in evil
Path Two: You become guilty of passive inaction
Path Three: You go straight ahead and become a hero.

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2 Responses to Zimbardo Speech at Stanford

  1. Ricky December 18, 2008 at 7:36 pm #

    “Most heroes are one time heroes.” This statement seems to limit the definition of a hero. Isn’t it possible that the person who regularly resists peer pressure (and the risk or reality of becoming a social outcast) and speaks up to challenge others who intentionally promote or passively enable harm and hurt of others in “ordinary, everyday” conversations and activities (e.g. by challenging someone’s racist comment; asking others not to gossip, challenging those to passively accept people who physically and sexually abuse others)? In a perfect world, the recipients of these remarks would understand and rise to the challenge but I think that most everyday heroes frequently and regularly rise to the challenge and most of their efforts are unnoticed and unappreciated by others.

    As well, what is the message to the person who is hero at an early age? Do they believe their work is done?

    I love the work you are doing. Thank you for doing it.

  2. Matt Langdon December 18, 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    Thanks very much for the thoughtful comment Ricky. You’re absolutely right. I think Phil was talking about heroes that face physical peril – injury or death. The reality is (as you point out) that danger doesn’t just come in the form of physical threats. I tell my kids that courage is about facing danger, whether it’s physical, emotional, or social. So speaking up when it means you might lose a friend or be rejected by society is heroic when you know it’s the right thing to do. Challenging inappropriate behaviour that might get you bullied is heroic.

    I would hope the young hero is recognized for their action and encouraged to do it again.

    Thanks again – and thanks for dropping by.