Morality is a necessary character in interactions or organizations. Generally, the words “right” and “wrong” are antonym and the meanings are used to define the positive and negative even though we are taught not to judge what other people do. However, the ideas of black and white or right and wrong in morality are difficult to determine because we usually use our own measurement to judge others based on our beliefs, experiences and knowledge.
In reality, there are not only black and white but the grey area also is existed where good people can do bad things and where bad people can do good things. According to Philip Zimbardo, psychologist and a professor at Stanford University, the line between bad and good isn’t fixed but it is movable and permeable. On his speech of the topic “Psychology of Evil,” he discusses the factors make good people turn into evil and how a hero should be.
In Zimbardo’s speech, the key word on his discussion was “power” and he defined evil as exercising power to intentionally harm (psychologically), hurt (physically), destroy, or commit crimes against humanity. Unsurprisingly, human beings are selfish and when we have power of control over someone or something, we tend to forget the humanity inside us and can do anything to reach whatever our goals are. Will the power turn good people to evil? Yes, I believe.
I lived in a communism country where tended to create a fair system and equality for everyone. In order create its “wonderful and fairness country, the group who had power and authority took all properties from wealthy households as public and country property. The exercising power took and destroy all hopes about this political system and many people including my family escaped and run away to different country to find a better life. Although my amily lived Hong Kong refugees camps for numbers of years but at least there was still a little hope of freedom and a better future.
Take Enron as another example, Lay and Skilling who were former CEO of Enron “put their own interests above those of their employees and the public, and failed to exercise proper oversight or shoulder responsibility for ethical failings,” and used power to select their own board members to “manipulate information while engaging in inconsistent treatment of internal and external. Lay and Skilling were those few “bad apples” that Zimbardo mentions in his speech.
What are factors making people bad? The “Psychology of Evil” intends to explain the transformations of human character, and the Lucifer Effect shows how it changes and forms the “me” in a group or an organization. According to Zimbardo, the three factors which are dispositional, situational and systemic that the “system creates the situation that corrupts the individuals, and the system is the legal, political, economic, cultural background. In the other words, the system is the environment where we live, work and interact with others, and our behaviors will change in order to adapt and fit into that environment. According to Mead’s theory, the “me” is considered as the socialized aspect of an individual and the “me” refers to attitudes, roles, meanings, pressure, behaviors and values of others which are organized into one’s self through the agency of role-taking.
Children are the group who has significantly impact from others because we are born as a blank piece paper and children would become a moral or immoral people depend on who and where they live. If they live in a place where everyone behave wisely to other, they are more likely to become “angel” and if they live an environment where is full of drugs, crimes and killings, they are more likely to become “evils. ” Similarity, adults, especially employees” are influenced by companies and their managers or bosses’ attitudes in order to adapt into the workplace environment.
Take Enron as example again, by influencing of Lay and Skilling, many employees of Enron followed their steps that managers didn’t understand the numbers and even the company’s operations but “left employees to their own devices, encouraging them to make their numbers by any means possible. ” Working under a lack of ethic’s system and moral leadership situation, good apples now become bad apples. What situation will turn a good person to a bad person?
Zimbardo mentions seven slopes to evil but the most of common ones and difficult to recognize are mindlessly taking the first small step and diffusion of personal responsibility. Most people don’t see themselves as evil because they always makeup a story for their wrongdoings and they are not directly responsible for an issue. According to self-justification strategies, we will find a way or an excuse to convince ourselves that it’s not our faults or something nicer in positive situation to make us feel better.
Zimbardo uses Milgram experiments as an example that evil start with a small 15 volt and increases at 15V intervals up to 450V. Because of self-justification, when increasing the volt of electricity, the participants won’t feel shame and guilt for their immoral behavior since the technician would take full responsibility for consequences. Recently, there are a lot of chemical and fake products as rice, eggs and beef in Asia market. At the beginning, store owners only purchase those products even knowing they are fake since they are inexpensive and if they don’t sell it, others do.
Later, many of them end up producing and selling them to make profits. The next situations are dehumanization of others and blind obedience of authority. These are significant issues and if top officials of a country are in this situation, it could take to the birth of second Hitler. Hitler and his followers fit into these slopes that they saw others who weren’t Aryan and German were enemies and evil especially Jews and Communists. His Nazi system was full of hatred and racism, but his followers were doubtless and accepted his views.
Some of them just followed their group and majority and wouldn’t think it right or wrong things to do logically, which consider as uncritical conformity to group norms. The power of anonymity reflects to the internet and cyberspace issues. Zimbardo claims that “people’s aggression can also increase when they feel anonymous–for example, if they wear a uniform, hood or mask…. You minimize social responsibility. Nobody knows who you are, so therefore you are not individually [responsible]. There’s also a group effect when all of you are masked.
It provides a fear in other people because they can’t see you, and you lose your humanity. ” As development of the internet, forums and social media have become a common place to discuss, comment and interact for different groups, especially young generation. Because of anonymous and no face-to-face interaction, it has given birth to young evils who bully and boy scouts others. Everyone can give his viewpoints or ideas or post anything to share but majority don’t take responsible for those and it will take to unexpected issues as suicide.
The statistic shows that 20% of respondents reported seriously thinking about attempting suicide (19. 7% of females; 20. 9% of males), while 19% reported attempting suicide among 2,000 middle school students in the US. Last but not least, the passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference is considered as “Bystander Effect” which refers to the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that anyone of them will help.
In reality, this situation has happened many times but because people are afraid and don’t want to get into troubles, they will stand and wait for someone else to help. Zimbardo states that children should be trained and reframe the hero image that the ordinary people can be heroes who act and rescue others in the right situation rather waiting for supernatural power heroes. To reducing immoral behaviors in workplace, companies must firstly build a moral leadership to create an ethical environment. A good leadership will be a guideline for other employees to follow.
Also, a top official should be a leader rather than a boss to understand and get closer their employees in order to create the harmless situation. In conclusion, the concepts of moral and immoral behaviors are difficult to determine but it is important in an organization and society. The power and the system is the main criteria turns an angel into an evil but if we apply and use them correctly, it may turn out positive. Also, understanding Zimbardo’s the seven slopes to evil, it will prevent a lot society issues and turn us into those real heroes.